The strikes, the rioting, and the bus and school boycotts that have occurred over the past months among the so-called "colored" people of Cape Town, south Africa's "Mother City," are a microcosm of the deep problems of a society dominated by apartheid.
For more than 300 years, those of mixed racial ancestry, living predominantly in the Western Cape Province, have been called "Coloreds," a term increasingly rejected by "Colored" students, intellectuals, and leaders who see it as a divisive classification imposed on them by generations of whites. "Black" is the term now generally used in South Africa by all those who are not white and who consider themselves united by the discrimination they all suffer. If the term "Colored" is used it is often qualified by "so-called."
This use of the term black is a sign of the growing politicization of the "Colored" people who have been seen as caught between African and Afrikaner nationalism and hence have been dismissed as marginal to the ultimate South African conflict. Over the years white South Africa has had countless opportunities to build bridges with this vital segment of the population, today numbering over 2.5 million. Now it is too late.
In 1976 it was Soweto, in 1980 it is Elsies River, a densely populated "Colored township on the aptly named Cape Flats. Earlier in the year this area became a place of violence, arson, looting, and confrontation with the police.
As in Soweto this has been a direct result of apartheid. What is happening in the Cape Peninsula must be seen in conjunction with the black labor struggle in Port Elizabeth and with student unrest in Soweto. Blacks are becoming more and more aware of their labor power, their buying power, and the corporate ability to control both of these. They are also aware of students as agents of change. The thousands of "Colored" schoolchildren and students who in May protested against unequal education in a cape Town shopping center, ironically named "The Golden Acre," cannot be dismissed as gangs or criminal "skollie" elements.
Violent crime is now a part of everyday like for "Coloreds," whites, and Africans. The lack of safety and the high crime rate in South Africa's urban areas in is part due to the complex phenomenon of urban growth, but it is also a direct consequence of the gross inequities and disparities of a society that has been economically, socially, and politically polarized by the apartheid legislation that has now been in effect for 32 years.
Much of the crime in the Cape Peninsula results from poverty, broken homes, inadequate correctional facilities, and the absence of a stake in the system. The nearly complete razing of District 6 in Cape Town has meant the destruction of a "Colored" community which existed for nearly 300 years.
Thousands were moved to houses in newer townships after being harassed for years by the implementation of the Group Areas Act. Most "Coloreds" now live miles away from their work places and resent seeing recent Portuguese refugees from Angola or Mozambique living in some of the remnants of their old neighborhoods. "Coloreds" have become more and more alienated from the system, and their children are beginning to show growing signs of disaffection.
There is admittedly a relatively large and conservative "Colored" middle class with a moderately high standard of living. But there are signs that, as the conflict widens, this middle class, too, may become at least peripherally politically involved.
In 1980 white South Africa is troubled and insecure. Ubtil basic injustices are redressed there can be no chance of finding lasting solutions to South Africa's problems.