The Hangberg protests over missing fisherman Durick van Blerk’s is just another sad chapter in the lifelong battle of a fishing community classified “coloured” by the apartheid regime. A battle for their identity, as well as land and fishing rights.
On Friday night, community activist Roscoe Jacobs, spokesperson for the Van Blerk family, posted on Facebook: "Can people refrain from talking about bodies washing up ashore without confirmation from the police. Don't post it if it's not factual! It is insensitive and cruel!" Police divers have been searching for Van Blerk this week without any luck.
There is heightened sensitivity regarding the 26-year-old Van Blerk's fate, whose wife is pregnant, but also increased awareness and sensitivity over the living conditions and work prospects of Hangberg’s residents amid this unfolding tragedy.
Sunday's violent protests were not the first and they will not be the last. Over the past 15 years, there have been many protests led by Hangberg residents regarding fishing rights – their daily bread – and their living conditions. This, of course, dates back to the time when Hangberg was created by the apartheid regime, of which the status quo has been maintained by the political, economic and social realities in South Africa.
The Group Areas Act promulgated by the apartheid regime in 1950 designated Hout Bay a "white zone". But because of the "coloured" community's fishing productivity, they were relocated to the Sentinel close to the Hout Bay harbour to serve their white masters' needs.
Twenty-four years after the end of apartheid, Hangberg residents are still fighting for the recognition of their fishing and political rights – not as "coloured" people who were relocated by the apartheid regime, but as people indigenous to the area.
Yet, some Hangberg residents have no problem with the term "coloured. In the community, they proudly call themselves coloured. “I am a coloured, I am a coloured, that’s what they say… We are very proud to be coloured! Not ashamed to be coloured.”
Proud they may be to call themselves coloured, but they do not take any pride from still being stuck in poverty and being dehumanised by the overcrowded manner in which they are forced to live, with unemployment and poverty rife.
As a “coloured community”, some Hangberg residents believe they are not valued by the government and are still struggling to escape the stereotypical association of coloureds with gangsterism and drugs. These stereotypes are believed to have a significant impact on how Hangberg residents are regarded by the police and the justice system.
“I can tell you something… The way I see it when you see people smoking marijuana, they are called 'coloured'. If they are smoking tik, they are all 'coloured'. If they do things like crime, they are called 'coloured'. But when a coloured does something good, they will be called 'South African'. We are not free because we are still living in a mental slavery. Apartheid is gone, but we are still stuck in apartheid," said Hangberg resident Mishka, who did not want to give her surname.
Hangberg residents and “coloured people” bear the cross of never being “white enough” or “black enough” – "the dog of the white men". Forever stuck in the middle. Hangberg residents want to escape the haunting, demeaning spirit of apartheid.
“We are affected by lots of lies, truth, past mistakes… It will be a long process before it disappears with the next generations,” said Ronald*.
Then there are Hangberg residents who reject the term "coloured" by considering themselves “Khoisan people”.
“If you’re coloured it means that you are nothing, if you're Khoisan it means that you belong here. We are born here, we are from here, we have ancestors from here, the ancestors of our ancestors are from here.
“There are three problems: poverty, drugs and gangsterism. Apartheid ending is a lie in South Africa. I don’t know who said that apartheid was going after Nelson Mandela came to power,” said William*.
“They don’t understand. The only thing that they should understand is to live like we are living, it makes us how we are. If you live alone in a big house, far from everybody, you feel free. But when you live here, it’s the poverty which makes this trouble.”
* Not their real names.