On De Klerk Boulevard
Table Bay Boulevard in Cape Town is to be renamed after F.W. De Klerk, subject to city council approval at a meeting tomorrow. When Eastern Boulevard was renamed after Nelson Mandela in 2011, the council chamber burst into rapturous applause. That’s unlikely to happen tomorrow.
Tony Ehrenreich, the Western Cape secretary of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, earlier this month called De Klerk ‘an accident of history who just happened to be the leader of the National Party and was forced to negotiate with the ANC... If a monkey had been standing next to President Mandela he would also have received a Nobel Prize.’ He has a point.
De Klerk has also failed to show real regret over apartheid, continuing to insist that it was based on the principle of ‘separate but equal’ lives for black and white South Africans, no worse than the idea of self-determination for Czechs and Slovaks.
Both the city of Cape Town and the Western Cape province are controlled by the Democratic Alliance, the largest opposition party nationally and the most popular among white voters. The DA espouses an ostensibly race-blind neoliberal politics, but frequently ties itself in knots over whether, and how, to increase support among black voters by appealing to notions of ‘African’ identity.
Ehrenreich, who is part of Cape Town's large mixed-race ‘coloured’ community and a former ANC candidate for mayor, frequently frames political differences in racial terms. When the ANC held its 103rd birthday celebrations on 10 January, party figures accused DA officials of putting obstacles in the way of the event at Cape Town Stadium. Ehrenreich commented that the ‘subtext’ is that the ANC are ‘the “other”, meaning they are “African”’, and that ‘a sense of separateness’ is being fostered in Cape Town.
Whether or not it’s deliberately fostered, the sense is made worse by the persistence of the city's apartheid geography. White, black, coloured and Asian people continue to live separate lives, as Adrian Frith’s maps of population distribution by race and household income make clear. The black and coloured middle class in Cape Town is tiny. With the exception of Afrikaans-speaking northern suburbs such as Durbanville (towards which F.W. De Klerk Boulevard will head as it leaves the city), most whites live on the Atlantic Seaboard or tucked up against the mountain in suburbs like Constantia and Newlands. A white South African friend once told me, sitting on the beach in Clifton, that for many of his peers Table Mountain is ‘a huge fucking shield, holding back all the shit from the rest of the country, and we're hiding behind it.’
The Western Cape premier, Helen Zille, recently promised to follow up personally any allegations of racism in the province. She’ll have her work cut out. There are plenty of stories of hostile service in restaurants and bars, or letting agents whose flats are unavailable to black tenants. And 15 cases of racially aggravated violence have been heard in Wynberg Magistrate’s Court in the past year.