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THE WAY WE LIVED. 1.The Semantics of Colour [7min read]

Sir Francis Drake, on his global  circumnavigation, described Cape Town as the fairest Cape in the world.  This would have been his view when he anchored in  Table Bay Harbour in 1580.

            1.The Semantics of Colour

Human separation is a distorted reality of colour, race religion, wealth and other diverse means.  Modern day political consciousness prefers an evasive neutrality.  The old South Africa flaunted segregation in the face of near-universal condemnation.  One needs an understanding of the semantics of a racial spectre that continues to hang over the country.

The original lines were clear.  “European” and “Non-European” were early distinctors between the colonisers and the colonised.  It did not take long for the products of indigenous tribal, coloniser, slave, indentured worker and political exile (from Asia in particular)  miscegenation to produce a disparate group of “Coloureds” and “Asians.”

With more time, Europeans felt less “European”.  Their offspring were products of Africa; technically they were “African.”  The segregated signs had to reflect this and Whites/Non-Whites Only notices replaced the Europeans/Non-Europeans Only state graffiti on entrances, benches, trains, buses, separate bus seats, toilets, post office service counters, hospital wards, government offices,  ……………..  Yes, it affected all aspects of life designed to separate a nation’s people.

Non-White subdivisions into Bantu, Coloured, and Asian(mainly Indian and a few Chinese) followed.  Many used the words “so-called” or “so-classified” before these State-designated subdivisions.  “Colouredians” also had some deprecating popularity in Cape Town. Capetonians are like that!

In the mid-to-late1960’s, the impact of Black Consciousness, led to the need for a more positive spin on the subdivisions.  The negative connotation of “Non-White” was replaced by “Black,” regardless of how pale-skinned people were.  After the 1960’s, it became the preferred term for many Non-Whites in the country.  Black was a sociopolitical badge of unity for the oppressed majority in South Africa.

The whole issue of this unity did not appeal to the National Government who sought more subdivisions and included the setting up of ten Homeland states or Bantustans.  In so doing, it excised more than ninety percent of the population from the country.  Its indigenous people, had long before suffered disenfranchisement.

Somewhere along the line, foreigners like Chinese, African Americans and a few visiting dignitaries from African states became Honorary Whites.  Visiting sporting teams shared this dubious honour including the All Blacks(now there’s an irony), and Australian and European sports teams, especially in athletics, rugby and cricket.

Almost amusingly, some liberal Whites started to refer to people as Black and Non-Black.  This pendular swing in terminology received little support.

Words like Kaffir, Hotnot, Boesman, Coolie were the ultimate insults for indigenous Africans, Coloureds and Indians.  It’s embarrassing to write about these terms, let alone use them.  It is unfortunate that these denigrating utterances were often employed by all races to discredit each other  There was no equally offensive term for Whites except with the use of adjectival expletives like “fucking” or “bloody.”  In later years, a few of the more educated used the North American term “Honky” as a reference to Whites having pink skins like pigs.  “Pinkos” did not take off either.

Racialism accepts the division of people into races.  Racism takes that farther as it attempts to promote the superiority of one race over others.  In South Africa, the more politically inclined rejected all classifications; non-racialism was needed to counter the racist system in the country.  A Homo sapien neutrality was, and is, the call by many, myself included.

Apartheid/segregation controlled our lives with the excess proliferation of signs and laws that attempted to impose a vilified ideology on the nation for forty-six years.  Avoiding the colour issue in this blogsite may be impossible, but it should be respectful at all times.

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Posted 30.9.2017

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