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Can a Tiger Tiger change its racist stripes?

It doesn’t matter if you call it “Targer Targer”, “Toyger Toyger”, or “Racist Racist” – Tiger Tiger, one of Cape Town’s most notorious nightclubs reopens in June, and already the event is being mocked for the club’s racist history.

When it comes to racism in South Africa, one arena that seemingly fails to attract any deep thought is the country’s nightlife. Because a night out is meant to be all good fun and there’s nothing serious in it. Right?

Wrong. Even in the search for fun, black youth are constantly trying to find a space where they won’t have to stand a little longer in queues while they watch white people behind them move through quickly.

There used to be an expensive nightclub known for its racism on Kloof Street in Cape Town. When black people who were aware of the club’s history queued outside, they did so wondering whether they would make it through the doors. If black girls managed to get past the bouncer, there was always that feeling that they got in because their presence (read “exoticism”) would attract more customers.

With the rise of student protests, these spaces are being slowly, provocatively and at times hilariously disrupted. Tiger Tiger, in Cape Town’s southern suburbs, is no stranger to racist accusations.

Who could forget the incident when a white student stood on the club’s balcony and urinated on a black taxi driver standing on the street below him?

Except for a brief burst of outrage, the club appeared relatively unmarked, still opening its doors for night-time revelry.

This year, the nightclub shut its doors for two weeks for upgrades to its interior. It announced its relaunch with a Facebook event that has since attracted a fair bit of mockery.

“Will the new Tiger Tiger have white privilege Saturdays as an event?” one Facebook user wrote on the club’s event page.

“Do I have to come as a token black friend to gain entrance, or can I come alone as long as I wear an original blazer from a recognised private school in the surrounding area? What is the safest way to show the bouncers that I’m a ‘good black oke?’” another wrote.

At previous events, students have taken the club to task for its dress code that states that women must wear heels, or that women pay a cheaper entrance fee during certain hours. Gender nonconformists and queer students have been vocal on social media against the alienating nature of these entrance markers.

Despite the seriousness of the matter at hand, the disruption on social media is laced with humour, and it’s the quick-witted edge of critics that has made an impact. With the humour of playing on Tiger Tiger’s name as Toiger Toiger, and the snarky jokes about the club’s penchant for exclusively white visitors, a degree of control is being taken back by youth who feel excluded.

Tiger Tiger posted a Facebook status in response: “While there are some people who are critical of Tiger Tiger and will dwell on the negative, there are also many people who support us, look for the best, and are excited about the positive changes ahead. We will always take constructive criticism to heart and we look forward to the opportunity of offering you a great night out!”

It’s not just Tiger Tiger that has been at the centre of racist accusations in nightlife. Not too long ago, a black student in Stellenbosch attempted to defend a black worker who was being mistreated at a McDonald’s at 2am – and a group of white students beat him up.

Festivals, too, have been lambasted for being discriminatory towards black musicians and festivalgoers. Racial profiling isn’t unheard of when it comes to cars being searched for drugs.

Darling-based music festival Rocking the Daisies has faced criticism for its long list of white musicians in the line-up, and black musicians have complained of being moved to stages at the fringe of the festival or feeling like token blacks.

This year, Rocking the Daisies, which takes place in October, has set up a hip-hop stage and, although it could be seen as a step in the right direction, this gesture has been greeted by critics as a feeble attempt to acknowledge the exclusionary culture of the festival.

Still, the days and nights go on, and these spaces continue to exist. Yes, there are black people who will continue to stand in queues knowing that the night might end in disappointment and open discrimination, but many students struggle to find alternative urban spaces in Cape Town for their nighttime revelry.

What matters more than the racist behaviour of these clubs is the disruption it creates. Though nightclubs with discriminatory reputations try to defend themselves, critics are having their own fun pushing back.

Update: June 2 106
In a post on Facebook, Tiger Tiger announced it is closing its doors and a new club will replace it. The Tiger Tiger re-launch has been cancelled.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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