By Zubeida Jaffer
In a Cape village bordered by green mountain slopes that flow down into the deep blue ocean, lie all the essential elements that make up the South African story – the rich, the poor, the white, the black, the brown, those with homes and those without, those with jobs and those without. Hout Bay, a coastal village about 20km from Cape Town, is South Africa in a microcosm. It is the place where the indigenous people of the Cape, the Khoi-Khoi, long before the arrival of the Dutch colonialists, are known to have lived in shelters earning the reputation of being the first known fisherman of this landmark fishing village. They gathered shellfish from the rocks and trapped fish in the estuary.
Perhaps it is fitting today that this village stands at the cutting edge of change in the new South Africa. A wide range of interviews with different sections of this village has shown how citizens, for the first time equal, are grappling with a new reality. Hout Bay is no longer classified “white” as it was under apartheid. And yet the geographic divisions entrenched under that system are self-evident. The white community that makes up half the population continue to occupy 96 percent of the land. The harbour community, which is predominantly coloured and the Imizamu Yethu community which is predominantly black, have access to about 4 percent of the land – a telling legacy of the Group Areas Act that denied those “other than white” to acquire property. While laws no longer entrench racial divisions, the spatial arrangements of apartheid continue to impact on daily life. What has come together now is a conjuncture of many histories and many spaces.
On the eve of the country’s 10th anniversary of democracy, the SA Reconciliation Barometer team spoke with citizens about the levels of integration in this coastal village.
For four years now, Belinda Du Plessis, 27, has been attending the former white church in Hout Bay. She was born in Hout Bay and was one of the children of the families who hid away in the bushes for decades. She lives in the small area within Hout Bay known as Imizamu Yethu, where those without homes living in the white section were moved in 1991. “All my life, I was with the coloured church,” she said. “Now about a third of the white church is black.” Her children are at the private Hout Bay Christian School where they also mix with children of other races. The problem is that when they come home to Imizamu Yethu, “there is no hope. Here they learn something else,” she said. The lack of space and land represents a huge problem for her. “We campaigned for houses, security and comfort. But where are those houses, security and comfort now?” she asks. “I feel we have just been dumped here.” Belinda is ambivalent about her situation. On the one hand, she smiles when speaking of the church and school. On the other hand she weeps when she speaks of the overcrowding where she now continues to live in a corrugated iron shack.
Her aunt, Emily Smith, 53, who lives close to her, perhaps expresses this ambivalence best. Unlike Belinda, Emily is one of the first people to have been the recipient of a brick house. Despite the fact that she has never lived in a brick house all her life, she says she cannot say how she feels about it. “I feel very happy on the one side and on the other side, I feel unhappy,” she said. “This is too tight. We are too tight. We were more spread out in the bush. There is no place for the children to play.”
Patrick Woko, 40, runs a little grocery shop in a shack. He was born and grew up in the hills of Hout Bay. For him, growing up in Hout Bay was like continually making “a fast getaway from a lion.” “You got this pumping rush, and next thing you are running, running,” he said. While his life has changed for the better because no one has the right to chase him out any longer, he has the impression that the white community believes that Hout Bay belongs to them. “We are just looked at as squatters because we are not ratepayers,” he said, “the ratepayers have a better say than us.” For him, the lack of mixing in the bars indicates what a long way the community has to go. “Hout Bay should be available to everybody. Yet none of us go and sit in a bar. I cannot see why people cannot sit in a bar and drink instead of bringing everything to where we stay.” He would like to see everybody utilising existing facilities. “We do not live on an island. We live in Hout Bay.”
Through the church, John Stella, 37, takes groups of children from the different sections of Hout Bay on ice-skating outings. “There’s no problem between the children,” he said. “It’s more about 14 upward that the friction starts.” He describes race relations as good, but as a citizen from the white section, he seldom goes into the harbour area where the fisherfolk live. He used to visit community leaders in Imizamu Yethu but was attacked by a former employee when he entered the area one day and is now too fearful to visit. He attributes a major source of tension between races to overcrowding. There has been an influx of thousands of people over the past few years. According to John, people in surrounding Clifton and Camps Bay do not provide accommodation for their staff. “The Atlantic Sea Board, Constantia and Bishopscourt should all share or make land available to accommodate the people they employ,” he said. “Why should we bear the brunt of it?”
Christina Adams, 70, lives in the harbour area. Living in Hout Bay for 51 years now, she recalls a time when Hout Bay was predominantly coloured. “When the whites started coming, we had to move,” she said. “Those days you could not walk too close to their fences. It was as if we did not exist,” she said. “But today they cannot say anything to us because we can say things back. I am also a lady.” She is also self-critical. “We do not have the attitude we should have,” she said. “We are all people and must get on with one another. Yet we coloured people are as much to blame as the black people. We say we do not like the kaffirs – they get everything and they are this and they are that – this is what we say.”
Editha Wilson, 56, is a pre-primary teacher and believes that reconciliation will happen in Hout Bay over time. But for now she says racism is working both ways. “There tends to be an automatic assumption that if you’re white you are a baddy. And that you are trying to take advantage in some way or another,” she said. About the black community, she said: “I don’t have a hell of a lot to do with them. Except for the parents I meet through the school.” There are about three or four black and brown children in a class of 24. “What is getting in the way more than anything are the basic cultural differences.” She senses a lot of resentment in the white community. “I think there is a lot of resentment among people who have worked hard for where they’ve got,” she said. “We are paying through our noses with our taxes and rates and everything else and are getting back very little for what we are giving and we are told, well, sorry, you are not a priority – that’s demotivating for people like us.”
Christina Smit, 49, alludes to fresh tensions between Afrikaans-speaking and Xhosa-speaking inhabitants of Imizamu Yethu. Christina was born in Hout Bay in the hills where her mother too was born and died. Some newcomers to the area in search of work and accommodation refer to her as a “malawu” which she considers to be a pejorative term for a coloured person. “They say we stood with the boers that time,” she said. “But we had it as hard as they that time.”
Her friend is Julia Mantemba Sitimela, 59, who is Xhosa-speaking but she explains this as being part of a historical relationship. “We grew up together. We get along. I can say nothing about those people that we grew up with. We are inter-married.”
Theodore Veerapen, 50, lives in Imizamu Yethu. He is English-speaking, classified coloured under apartheid and is married to a Xhosa-speaking women. “There is a lot of racism,” he said. “Some coloured people call black people ‘kaffirs’. Some blacks call coloureds ‘malawu’ and whites are still exploiting black people. Some people are finding one another but the majority are not.” His 9 year old daughter gives him hope. He is paying for her to attend a Model C school where the “racial mix is fair.” “That is how it should have been when I went to school,” he said. “Everybody is a person irrespective of the colour, group or culture, so that is how it should be. It is going to improve at a very slow pace.”
On closer examination, it is clear that racial tensions amongst coloureds and blacks flows from the fight over scarce resources. The people who are viewed as newcomers are stalking their claims on housing and land, and they are Xhosa-speaking people, working in areas surrounding Hout Bay. Those who grew up historically in Hout Bay, black and brown forged some kind of relationship through shared adversity and see themselves as now having to compete with others who have moved in over the past eight years or so.
Way back in 1991, a UCT survey found the number of shack dwellers in Imizamu Yethu to be just over 2 000. Today residents in the settlement and in broader Hout Bay estimate the population figures to stand at 18 000. The results from the survey revealed that the most common language spoken was Xhosa (79%) and Afrikaans (17%). Other languages spoken included Portuguese (spoken by people who originally came from Angola to work on the boats) English and Zulu. Citizens interviewed have vivid memories of the past that impact on their present behaviour. “We were treated like dogs,” said Edward Van Blerk, 44, a fisherman from the harbour area. He was born in Hout Bay and so were his mother and grandmother. He remembers the time when his family was moved to the harbour area, when the coloured community that constituted the majority of people in the area was squeezed into the flats in the harbour. “They just plonked us down here,” he said. “If they had not, we would still have been staying near Kronendal where we had big places with land to grow our own vegetables.” He said that some lived along the beach, others near the luscious hills bordering the road into Constantia. “We were all moved.” He has bad memories of the time. “The police used to get on us on the road, stop us, smack us and did this on the street not on people’s properties. We were scared all the time.”
Emily Smith’s parents, who were the well-known Anthony couple who fought for rights to the land for many years, had both been born in Hout Bay. Speaking in Afrikaans she said: “My father always said this is our plot here in the hills. It belonged to us. This is where we grew up, got married and had our children,” she said. Despite being repeatedly chased away and their shacks being demolished by the council, the family kept on returning because they knew of no other place they could call home. “When they pulled down our shacks, we had to sleep outside with our small children and just pull a plastic sheet over us,” she said. “Early in the morning, they would come and even take that sheet away. Then we just get more sheets and put up a ramp,” she said. And so the years passed by – the families in constant motion.
To survive during the apartheid years, Julie Mantemba Sitemela, 59, changed her name to Julie Davids. By pretending she was coloured, she could stay more easily in Hout Bay. “They arrested the women and put them in Pollsmoor those years,” she said. She learned to speak Afrikaans and worked as a domestic all her adult life. “It was a bitter time those years,” she said. “The post office was separate, the beach was separate, and we were sprayed with teargas.”
Way back in the seventies when she first arrived in Hout Bay, Jackie Ravenscroft, 59, came to discover there were “little African communities right up in the mountain hiding away.” Jackie who has lived in Hout Bay for over 30 years now was one of a handful of whites who helped them avoid detection. “We had a friend who was a gatekeeper where the trucks were kept (that raided communities). He’d call out when they left and we’d go up there to warn the people.” She knew she had about two quarters of an hour or so and beat her way through the Port Jackson bushes. “OK, people, they on their way.” If they were not warned in time, they were arrested. “They arrested the men. But sometimes they arrested the women as well,” she said. Once at night during mid-winter, she heard of a raid. When she went up there, she found 17 children, under the age of 12, who had run away. She brought them to her place and looked after them until their parents came out of jail.
Eventually, during the mid-eighties as resistance to apartheid grew, the homeless in Hout Bay ended their silence. They campaigned for the right to live legally in Hout Bay, where many of them had worked for decades. Along the leafy entrance road to Hout Bay, scores of people moved down from the hillsides at night, snaking in a long line bearing lit candles in protest. Their committee represented five other groups of “illegals” spread across the area. The campaign brought results. In 1991, government moved the “illegals” to a piece of land that is now known as Imizamu Yethu. But this in itself was done without proper consultation. At the time, the Hout Bay Action Committee and the Hout Bay Squatters Co-ordinating Committee warned ‘the problem is far from solved’ and vowed to intensify the struggle for permanent land. Vanessa Mathews of the Co-ordinating Committee said: “They have dumped the people here to meet the deadline that was looming. This final decision to move the squatters onto this piece of land was not ours but that of the government,” she said. “This must be made clear to all of our friends, as well as our enemies.” Ironically, the government decision was not welcomed by white residents either.
Together with the two international colleagues, UCT academic Don Foster collected a set of 71 letters sent to local newspapers between 1989 and 1994. These letters they said, “provided a medium through which the private views of Hout Bay citizens became part of the public debate…” They noticed a recurrent theme – that a squatter camp is simply misplaced in Hout Bay. A specific conception of place identity is used to imply that squatters are foreign to Hout Bay. The extracts from the letters show no acknowledgement that the coloured community was spread all over Hout Bay in the past, that many had lived in the area longer than many of their white counterparts. There is also no acknowledgement that black people brought in to work in the factories and on the sea were denied family housing and had to live up in the hills and hide their wives and children. British and German foreigners ,now buying up properties in the area, are not the focus of this reaction against the foreign.
There were several problems at the new site that continues to dog resolution of an apartheid problem. “The 63 square metre plots were too small and resulted in a ‘lot of chaos’.” The government had promised the site would be prepared when the people moved in but when they did they found no laid boundaries and unserviced plots.” “There were no recreational facilities for children or the community.” “Land was only allocated to squatters in the white community but not to those in the harbour area that led to tensions between two groups of squatters.”
Many of those interviewed pointed to the split in community leadership in both Imizamu Yethu and in the former white section. In Imizamu Yethu, some of the original Hout Bay inhabitants have formed themselves into an organization called Sinethemba, which is seperate from the local committee. Sinethemba members are resisting the encroachment of newcomers to the area who construct their shacks in the night and stake their claims to the confined land. Thrown into this division is competition between the ANC and the DA.
In the white section, there are three organizations. The Hout Bay Ratepayer’s Association (HBRA), the Hout Bay Resident’s Association and the North Shore Forum. The HBRA is a civic body that represents the interest of ratepaying citizens of Hout Bay across a range of issues. The Residents Association is a formation that is committed to “accepting the South Africaness of Hout Bay”. While there have been efforts to link up all the different interest groups in the area, a coordinating committee that could build community cohesion has yet to emerge. The elements of such cooperation are not completely absent. A leadership with vision could move this conglomeration of interests towards greater cohesion and a shared future.
Mixed youth activities are for Theodore Veerapen, a source of integration.” The churches have been getting sports groups together on a very small basis. If we are looking to integrate this community we should start on the sports field. We are moving in the right direction but very slowly,” he said.
John Stella also places faith in the youth. He works with a number of different youth church groups. One of the groups is Youth (Young Ones United Together in Hope). Youth is for teenagers from 12 to about 25, coming mainly from the harbour area. “Let’s try and do something for the community no matter what the race and age,” he said. He advises the SA Reconciliation Barometer to get the opinion of the youth. “The old people will tell you the same story – what has happened – you cannot change what has happened in the last 20 – 30 years here. But the youth can make a difference. Many of them are quite willing to cooperate in projects, educational and youth centers,” he said.
Jackie Ravenscroft said that integration requires personal links. “Not, I’m the giver and you the receiver.” She speaks from experience. She once got funding from an Austrian couple to sponsor a hairdressing business in Imizamu Yethu. They found a place to put the container for the business. As part of the barter agreement, Jackie did the garden on whose property the container partly stood. As she dug in the garden, a crowd came around and asked her what she was doing. “I got a garden job for the day,” she said. They all laughed. “You know, here is a white woman digging in a black man’s garden. How the tables have turned. There was this laughter going on. It was such good fun – so good to be part of the community in such a small way.” She is highly critical of the separation between people. “Whites retreat to their castles and close their electronic gates. They open it to let their maid and gardeners in and let them out at night. They are scared.” She feels children should be exposed to know their spirit of generosity. How they share, even if they have nothing.”
Edward Van Blerk spends some of his weekends in Imizamu Yethu. “We sit together, drink together and we talk together.” His relationship with whites has changed considerably. The old master-servant relationship has changed. “The time of sir and madam is past,” he said. “I see now that there are some white people who care.” The authorities needed to treat citizens equitably to end divisions. Edward is concerned that more resources are being directed towards Imizamu Yethu, with the harbour community being neglected. “How is the government working? We have an overflow of children and now have to collect monies to pay teachers. What they do for the one they must do for the other – not give to some homeless and not to others.”
For Patrick Woko, people need to let go of their fears and learn to work into the white section without fear. “You can let go and live a normal life. When I come to them, I also talk to them and tell them. We can do something with our little bit of freeness.”
The Cape Town Unicity is involved in an initiative that suggests the possibility of greater cooperation amongst different groups in Hout Bay. Bon Gertz, 73, who has lived in the area for 40 years, is one of the people involved in the Imagine Hout Bay Project, started by the local authorities. “Across race and class, everyone wants the same thing,” said Bon. “We have great hopes. Some dear chap said: ” You come to my house and I come to your house and we eat lasagna. We are united through sharing our culture.” They held a pilot workshop with people from all sections of the community. The Unicity team is expected to soon set up an Interim Development Forum involving all races. “Of course you’ll always get some conservative, racist people, but by and large, I think there is a real, real willingness from whites to be accommodating, to be reasonable,” she said.
While Belinda Du Plessis says her aim is to work hard and move out of Imizamu Yethu with her two children, she is pleased about the levels of mixing. “What is nice about the kids is that these ones are teaching those ones Afrikaans and they are teaching them Xhosa. There is more mixing now. Some black people are fine. Others are not. I think that if we can all stand together and just be one, it is possible that we can all live together.”
Despite the goodwill expressed by so many, a serious effort to provide adequate housing and land or those who do not have will only be the only solid basis for a lasting sense of cohesion in this area – once again pointing to the intimate connection between material well-being and national reconciliation.
Residents will also have to let go of their place constructions portraying some as an intrusive misplaced group that, according to Don Foster, justifies familiar practices of division and exclusion. If Hout Bay rises, it will be many steps ahead of other villages and towns throughout South Africa grappling with similarly difficult issues.
THE S.A. RECONCILIATION BAROMETER
TRACKING SOCIO POLITICAL TRENDS
VOL.1 ISS. 4 * DECEMBER 2003