Cape Town, home of the finest snobbery

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mango groove concert lib INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Mango Groove playing at Kirstenbosch. Picture: Thomas Holder

I saw the Secret White Club of Cape Town the other day.

It was at the Mango Groove concert at Kirstenbosch, and they were all there: the 60-somethings in tasteful cotton with little chairs and expensive wines; the earnest middle-class parents and their well-behaved children; the lefties with their scarves and bangles and piercings and dreadlocks.

The air was filled with the sweet perfume of smugness and self-satisfaction, as it always is at these events.

And, dear reader, before you assume I am one in blackness with Khaya Dlanga, who had caused such a stir on IOL in recent days, think again: I am in fact a middle-aged, middle-class white woman with one of those well-behaved children.

However, I don’t belong to the Secret White Club for I have a terrible disadvantage: I have a flat Eastern Cape accent (with undertones of the old Transvaal - I was born in Joburg). And for that reason alone, I will never be admitted to the club.

For you see, to accuse Cape Town of racism is to over-simplify. It is more complicated than that.

At bedrock, you have the naked white-on-black racism that informs white life in this country. It exists in all of us, and the only way forward is to acknowledge it and struggle with it.

In the Eastern Cape I have heard this racism expressed openly and crudely (by people who assume I am in the same club as them).

In Cape Town it is never discussed - rather than saying we won’t send our children to a particular school because it has too many black kids (which would be openly expressed elsewhere in the country), we say we are worried about “bussing in”. How delicate is that?

So far, so familiar.

The extra dimension to Cape Town life, the extra special flavour, is snobbery.

The fine judgments exercised in this snobbery are based on where you live (one dowager looked down her nose at my newly arrived mother and asked: “So, which side of the line do you live on?” I am not making this up).

Also, you need to get the cultural pretensions (when I first moved here, I was told, quite seriously, I could never call myself a Capetonian unless I knew how to drink red wine. I am not making this up).

Then there are the subtle markers of privilege and background that lie in accent, clothing, school background (when asked where I was at school I say Clarendon Girls. When polite mystification ensues, I throw the Capetonians a bone and say it’s the East London equivalent of Rustenburg Girls. Relaxation all round. I am not making this up).

I’ve accepted, as an Eastern Cape refugee who came here to find work, that I will never fit in Cape Town Society. I was not born under an oak tree in Constantia and don't present any of the right social markers. At that Mango Groove concert, I was wearing a tatty leather jacket and drinking white wine out of a box. What could the Club have made of me?

In any event, I am very happy in the ghetto where those misfits, vagabonds and idealists known as journalists live. They accept me as I am.

But I have lived in this city for longer than I have lived anywhere else, and when people ask me where I am from, I say I am from the Eastern Cape. That I am proud of. Cape Town? Not so much.



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