'Where do all the black people work?'

By Time of article published Oct 22, 2009

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In a survey of employment equity in the Western Cape commissioned by the Employment Promotion Programme, researchers Dr Sabie Surtee and Professor Martin Hall found that contrary to claims that whites are the losers in post-apartheid South Africa, white people are still being appointed and promoted at rates which suggest "positive discrimination" in their favour. The following are quotes of respondents in the survey.

It was a commonly-held view that being black meant having to work harder and perform to a higher standard:

"I just feel when you get the job as a black person, male or female, you are put under so much pressure to over-perform so that you can take away the perceptions that people have about you already. It's like you are judged on your work before you even do it." (retail sector)

"The minute a black person is employed and the person is an EE candidate there is a perception that they are employed because they are black and not necessarily because they can do the job. And I hate it, actually! I mean I went to university, I studied, I did everything I needed to do to make sure I can do my job and I know I can do my job at the best of my abilities and when people see me they say, 'She got the job because she is black', and I hate it." (retail sector)

"As a black professional you are not supposed to make a mistake. You are supposed to be 110% perfect. In the event a mistake happens, every good that you have done is forgotten. You just become useless. You are incompetent. The expectation is that you must fail and when you don't fail, you must then be perfect. You must be superhuman..." (financial services sector)

"If you are black it is even more challenging because, firstly, you have to prove that you are competent - that you can do it. It doesn't matter whether you have a PhD from Harvard...if you don't deliver in terms of the quality and the quantity in the position, then that may affect your credibility... especially after making a couple of mistakes, staff tend to ignore you and consult with your senior or another white consultant." (financial services sector)

In addition to these general perceptions about institutional climate and working conditions, interviewees in this study were asked about experiences that they felt were specific to the Western Cape. There was a broad consensus that Cape Town is hostile to African people. A standard comparison is with Johannesburg:

"There is always that impression here in Cape Town that black people can't quite handle it, too much pressure for blacks. Yet you go over to Edgars in Joburg there is a whole lot more pressure than here and it's a whole lot more black people!" (retail sector)

"I would like to hang out with more Capetonians but they are funny characters. They live in an environment that is peaceful, that allows you to be on your own...very little happens - it's just Table Mountain and the sea. Joburg has ubuntu." (retail sector)

"People in Joburg have so much energy... they are free man... there is spunk in the air... no one cares whether you are black or white, everyone is just happy!" (retail sector)

"Cape Town is so behind. Johannesburg is cosmopolitan, Cape Town is not. Cape Town is a white man's paradise. They are in charge, they do as they please." (general category).

Some expressed a sense of isolation in the Western Cape:

"If you come to Cape Town... you need to have a support structure because people here are very cliquey." (retail sector).

"(Because of these cliques)... It's a sad place with a sad psyche... it's such a beautiful place but there is no soul. That's how I feel." (retail sector)

"If I walk into a shopping centre I can't wait to get out. I feel self-conscious as a black man and am treated differently... If I walk to the Waterfront I don't feel like complaining anymore even when I get cr*p service... as Africans we are numb now." (retail sector)

"I had been here for two weeks and I haven't had a single black person coming to me and saying, 'Hello, my name is Vuyo, my name is Themba or Vusi, congratulations we heard you've been appointed director, welcome aboard, please if you need anything, we're around, I'm from Cape Town... ' I said if I was in Joburg, people would have enquired by now, 'Who is this guy where is he from...'" (retail sector)

Inevitably, this sense of alienation and isolation is seen as the consequence of a racialised hierarchy in which white and coloured people are favoured over African people:

"You have the African cabal, the coloured cabal... at times I take the view that white people, if they choose to be racists, they use coloureds as a proxy to do whatever silly job; within that cabal you also have the Muslims." (general)

"(When I arrived here, some coloureds said).... 'He is going to take our job - why can't he find work in African areas like Gugulethu and Philippi?... ' Coloured employees feel threatened by Africans and the pressure therefore is always on the African person to prove himself." (general)

"They are threatened, they would treat you like a foreigner because they see you as somebody coming from outside to take their jobs here. It's strange because in Joburg and Durban, there is no difference between coloureds and blacks - they identify with blacks, but here it is completely different." (general)

"The problem in the Western Cape is that favouritism happens of coloureds and black people are overlooked and told they are slow learners or incompetent or cannot cope. As a black person you need to work 120-150% to be recognised." (retail sector)

"The major stumbling block in Cape Town are Cape coloureds and I think the whites in Cape Town want to curry favour with coloureds because they want their vote or they think they can stomach them better than they can Africans... It serves the whites to hire coloureds because it makes them look good because in the books they are black, while actually Cape coloureds are not black because they don't see themselves as black. So for anyone who wants to attract black professionals in Cape Town, it's not a micro issue. It's a macro issue as one needs to impact on the culture at a bigger level." (financial services sector)

"It's like I have moved 10 years back or 20 years back. Joburg is like so far and Cape Town is so very backward. what I always ask myself, 'Where do the black people work in the Western Cape? I don't see them. You walk in the malls, you walk in the store... it's either coloured or white people, coloured or white! Where are the black people? How do they pay their bills, what are they eating?" (retail sector)

"Blacks are more educated in terms of formal qualifications, especially compared with coloureds and that is the threat." (financial services sector)

"It's not just about changing the mind-set of the white and coloured people in Cape Town, it is also about changing the black mind-set. Africans exclude themselves. They only socialise in the townships. They would come out if there is something that they think is specifically African in town." (financial services sector)

One measure of relative change is the perception of white attitudes. Several interviewees experienced the attitudes of white colleagues in the Western Cape as backward in comparison with Gauteng:

"You know the difference between Johannesburg and Cape Town is that in Johannesburg you feel very liberated. You feel like you are in South Africa - a liberated South Africa. Even the white people that you deal with in Johannesburg are different." (financial services sector)

"Joburg is free and you can make jokes anytime and nobody gets offended. White people in Joburg understand... even if you find a white person from Joburg here, that person thinks differently from a white person in the Western Cape." (retail sector)

"It's a different vibe in Joburg. The white people in Joburg are so different. I think the Western Cape is so behind compared to the rest of the country. Being a black person in Joburg you don't even think like that, you don't even think 'I am black...' my race has never been an issue like it has been here." (retail sector)

"In Joburg if you met your colleague in the mall they would greet you or even invite you for a drink or something. In Cape Town my white colleagues ignore me in shopping malls. I initially thought that it was because they had not seen me, but now I know that white people will ignore one outside of the workplace." (retail sector)

These narratives clearly illustrate that wider social factors within the Western Cape impact on the success of the participating businesses to retain their African staff. These extra-work factors influence and shape the sphere of work, and this points to the urgent need for broader stakeholder engagement in the Western Cape between business and other stakeholder groups.

Interview data presented in the individual company reports also shows that biographical factors and the neighbourhoods where African professionals reside also impact on their experiences of living and working in the Western Cape. An analysis of biographical differences amongst the African professionals interviewed shows that regardless of their gender differences, those who were married and/or who had children or siblings living in the Western Cape relied heavily on these personal networks to cope with adjusting to life and work in Cape Town.

This group hence made reference to the huge differences in experience felt by African professionals who relocated to Cape Town with social support compared to those who arrived here single. The data suggests that African professionals who have access to family and wider social networks within the Western Cape felt more supported and experienced less social alienation:

"I have what I needed around me, which is my family, but from day to day outside work and into your social life, it is difficult to be in Cape Town, because there are not lots of black people around here... so you're on your own. So if you come to Cape Town and you are single, it is much more difficult." (retail sector)

"Single people tend to leave... (Cape Town)... sooner when they get bored... people that have family units - that could work - the support system will be there for them." (financial services sector)

Another biographical difference which helps to explain why the African professionals interviewed would opt to stay on in Cape Town rather than relocate has to do with whether or not they have children living with them. By and large those who did have children living here regarded Cape Town in terms of the quality of life, as offering a less stressful and more crime-free environment than other provinces to their children.

For this cohort, Johannesburg is described as being too ridden by crime, and too dense and congested an environment to raise young children in. The following narrative captures the contradictory position which many of these African professionals with children find themselves in:

"Despite the loneliness of Cape Town and that one just barely tolerates being here... I appreciate the fact that Cape Town offers a better environment to raise my children." (retail sector)

Only one interviewee held a different view and expressed the following sentiment:

"(After arriving in Cape Town)... I was shocked... I'm thinking that it's not something I can get used to. I want to move away... what hurts me the most is the fact that my three-year-old son is already aware of race... he says 'Mummy you're black and I am black'. I was shocked and I was so sad... who tells a three year old that 'you are a black'? I can handle it, but I don't think I can handle it when it comes to my child." (retail sector)

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