On Sunday morning I took a cab from my home in Mowbray to downtown Cape Town. With no traffic, this is usually about a 15 minute drive. I take taxis all the time and the ride usually goes the same way each time. The driver asks me where I’m going, I tell them. Do you have a meter? No? Set rate? How much? I get in and we start driving. About two minutes into the ride either I or the driver start the usual small talk–weather, how long have I been in Cape Town, where am I from, why am I here. I’ve even gotten better at talking out of my ass when it comes to rugby–Stormers, Cheetahs, Springboks, All Blacks, I can name a few teams and hang with them for 15 minutes as they tell me the latest rugby news. Sometimes we talk about my work, sometimes we don’t talk at all. It just depends on the driver.
On Sunday the drive started the same….but the conversation quickly got serious. How long have you been in Cape Town? Why are you here? Oh, you study politics? You’re doing a project on democracy? What do you think of South Africa’s democracy? Is it fair here? Keep in mind, I’m from here you know–born and raised–so I know about this country. Let me tell you about it….
Before I knew what was happening, my driver took off on a whirlwind explanation of his experiences living as a coloured man in first apartheid and now post-apartheid South Africa. Together we had the most candid, interesting, open 15 minute discussion about South African politics. We pulled up to my destination and he stopped the meter, put the car in park, and kept talking for almost 10 minutes. I encouraged him to keep his passion for democracy and politics alive and he smiled, waved, and told me to do the same. Once I got out of the car I quickly tried to write down as much as possible of what he said so I could share it. While this transcript is not the exact words he used, it is true to his style of speaking and the sentiments he expressed:
On the African National Congress (ANC), which is the current ruling party of South Africa:
You stop any black man on the street anywhere in this country and they will tell you how the ANC has done them wrong. They made promises they didn’t keep. They did this; they did that. They’re fed up with the ANC. Fed up. But mark me– come election time, they will all vote for the ANC to a man. To a man! Because for them, they think only a black can be in charge. To them, this is a black country and the blacks must be in charge. They won’t vote for someone who will actually make the changes that need to happen because they will only vote the color of their skin.
See, that’s why I appreciate the United States. In the U.S. you have Republican and you have Democrat. It’s about the politics. It’s about the issues. It’s not about blacks voting black and whites voting white and coloureds voting coloured. How is that right? How is that progress?
And the thing is, the blacks think this land is black. Look back in the history– the original inhabitants of this land were the Khoisan, a coloured people. Their skin was a shade lighter than mine and a shade darker than yours (pointing at me in the rearview mirror). When the blacks came down from Central Africa with their cattle they were able to overpower the Khoisan and take the land away from they. Wiped them out completely. The blacks are immigrants to this land like all the rest of us. It’s all there in the history. But do they teach that history? No.
On post-apartheid South Africa:
I am a coloured man and I am 50 years old. So I lived through apartheid, I remember it. I lived through the “old” South Africa and I am living now in the “new”. Let me tell you this– the “new” South Africa is NOT better than the “old”. It’s not better. I remember when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I remember it; I was there. He stood there at City Hall (pointing in the direction of City Hall). He stood there and he said, verbatim: “Friends, comrades, and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy, and freedom for all.” Fellow South Africans, he said. See, we are all the same. Freedom for all he said. He said we should look to the future, not to the past, and that we are all one nation. The Rainbow Nation. That’s what he said and that’s what we believed. Where is that South Africa he promised? It’s not here. I will tell you plainly– it is not here.
On democracy in South Africa:
There is no democracy here. Not in South Africa. What does “democracy” mean? Simple. It’s one word. It’s fairness. What is fair here? What is fair for the coloured man? We feel forgotten in this “new” nation. What am I here? A second-class citizen? A third-class citizen? People think the issues are black and white. It’s always black against white and the coloured man gets left out. My son can’t even get a job because he’s not white but he’s not black enough. His skin is fairer than mine, you see. I even tried to get him a job at a factory where I knew the manager personally. Personally! He told me to my face that my son wasn’t black enough. The job had to go to a black boy. Not my son. Not my son with his fair skin and green eyes. Where is the fairness there? Jobs should be given out on merit, not skin color.
On the future of being coloured in South Africa:
Maybe not in my lifetime, but there will be a day when South Africa is ruled by the coloured man. It can’t be any other way. Today, white women are marrying black men. Black men are marrying white women. What is the result? Coloured children. The future of South Africa is a coloured future. The problem is, these mixed couples are not sharing their language and their culture with their mixed children. It’s a shame because so much language and culture is getting lost. I blame the parents. They know this stuff and they do not pass it to their children. We will have a nation of coloured people who don’t know who they are.
You can watch Mandela’s entire speech made from the balcony of City Hall on the day of his release from prison here: