BLACK? Access Denied

Today the writing is not on a bench or sign but we are still kept out of spaces. PHOTO: Alcuin Lai on Flickr

Today the writing is not on a bench or sign but we are still kept out of spaces. PHOTO: Alcuin Lai on Flickr

Cape Town was in the news for racism again. This time because the 12 Apostles Hotel restaurant Azure, tried to deny a black family a dinner reservation. In case you missed it Martina Philcox blogged about what happened when her friend Tumi Mpofu’s family tried to make a booking at Azure and once mainstream media got wind of the incident a PR nightmare ensued.

Long story cut short, when Tumi tried to make a reservation, the restaurant was fully booked. Minutes later when Martina tried to do the same – upon Tumi’s request – there was a table available. Tumi’s family went to the restaurant as they refused to allow this place the satisfaction of keeping the blacks out. When they arrived they were seated however a few minutes later they were told there was no booking under the name Philcox. Martina was called she shouted at the manager and suddenly they were apologetic and given the table.

Of course the 12 Apostles management has since denied that the incident was racist. The general manager says the hotel has a zero tolerance policy for racism but for pete’s sake who has a policy that promotes racism? No one will ever admit to being racist and if you listen to the Cape Talk podcast you will find that way too many coincidences resulted in the Mpofu family being treated as they were.

Although I have never lived in Cape Town I believe I have experiences that may inform why black people who live there there have the experiences they do.  After reading Chimamanda Ngozie-Adichie’s Americanah, I have realised that experience based writing tends to speak more to someone because they put themselves in your shoes as a means of trying to identify with your story.

I lived in Potchefstroom in the North West from 2007 to 2010. My mother had just been appointed as an Associate Professor for Research at the University because I mean, she’s a boss in her field and they needed her. I had never really been exposed to overt racism however I was aware and alert to the “subtle” methods of it.

How we were denied access


My mom was appointed at the University late 2006. My sister was supposed to start high school in 2007 so it was too late to apply for schools. When she called Potchefstroom Girls High School (GHS) they told her there was nothing they could do about her predicament. The high school was filled to capacity and no exceptions could be made.

My mother is no fool and if there is one thing I have learned from her, it’s to fight the system no matter what. She called her future boss and asked her to call the school and make it clear to them that she was a professor from the school and they would need to make a plan. Her boss – a white woman – called the school and lo and behold my sister was admitted to GHS without having to be interviewed. She even secured hostel admission. Suddenly they could make an exception.

Now you could call this an issue of classism or racism. Whatever you believe it really doesn’t matter. The fact is my mother had to ask a white head of department to confirm her qualifications. Why? Why did they believe her and not my mother? Did her Venda South African accent sound less believable?


Now we needed to find a place to live. My mother made a few appointments with an estate agent. She stated what price bracket she was looking at, how many bedrooms she required etc. The standard information an estate agent would require was provided. Her future boss had suggested a few suburbs she should consider: Baillie Park, Grimbeek Park, Moovallei Park and Van Der Hoff Park. So in addition to the standard information, my mother specified her preferred suburbs.

We travelled 182km to Potch and we were horrified by the houses we were shown. Firstly, we were not shown houses in any of the suburbs we requested. Instead, we were taken to a suburb called Dassie Rand which is typically occupied by black people. The house quality and location is so obviously different from that of the cushy suburbs we were being kept out of. If it wasn’t a case of us being pushed to suburbs we didn’t like then the houses were run down and in a less than desirable condition.

We left Potch on day one knowing very well that we had been duped. Now as I explained, mom is no fool. So she called her black friend who speaks perfect Afrikaans (accent and all) to call the same estate agent with the same specifications. Suddenly houses in mom’s price bracket were available in her preferred suburbs and the shock on the estate agent’s face when we rocked up was priceless.  We kept having to ask Afrikaans speaking friends to make calls and eventually found property we were happy.


There were other incidents that followed but it’s not necessary to point all of them out. I would rather talk about my experience of Potch and why I believe the people there are still wonderfully oppressed.

In Potchefstroom – there is a black suburb. If the black people do not live in the Ikageng township they live in town or in Dassie Rand. While we lived in Potch we lived in Baillie Park and Grimbeek Park we were the only black residents in complexes that had more than 20 households. In fact in our neighbourhoods, when we saw a black family we rejoiced as if we were walking through the streets of an Eastern European country.

Black people in Potch speak Afrikaans fluently. In fact most of them can’t even speak English and do not protest to Afrikaans as a medium of communication in schools, business meetings or memorandums.

On any given night at any restaurant we were always the only black family and if we were lucky, one of two. Black people in Potch – and this includes the Coloured people in Primosa and peoples of Indian descent in Mohadin – know their place and they are comfortable staying in it lest they disrupt the status quo.

There is something fundamentally wrong with being in a city in South Africa where you know the majority of it’s people are black and Setswana speaking yet all you are confronted with are waitresses and shop assistants who address you in Afrikaans and signage in Afrikaans. There is a problem when the only time you see black people is if you head to town or go to the mall of a Saturday morning.

As far as I know, Cape Town is similar in it’s segregation – perhaps with a lighter Afrikaans presence, but similarly black people in posh areas are few and far between. Now obviously if black people are not owning spaces in these places white people remain comfortable in their pre-apartheid style spaces. It’s a joke that we actually still have predominantly white areas but somehow we have allowed it and even become accustomed to it.

If you find yourself in a working environment that is full of Afrikaans speaking people and allow yourself to sit in meetings that are conducted in Afrikaans you must accept and recognise that you are part of the problem too. Make them feel uncomfortable. Speak up when you are being marginalised. Go to these white clubs and dance like you have never danced before. Go to the gym and shout YEBO because the spinning class is just that great. The minute we walk into places with our shoulders hunched as if we are out of place we give power to those who deliberately want to make us feel like that.

The thing is as black people we do not have the resources to keep white people out. We also should not be afraid to occupy, occupy, occupy. I refuse to feel like a stranger in my own home and I salute all people who keep fighting to be seen and heard. You are a human and you deserve all the fine things in life. If they don’t like it then they must shut down and set up shop in Europe.



2 thoughts on “BLACK? Access Denied

  1. This was a great read Shandukani. You are right experienced based writing is more powerful. I studied in Cape Town and I never truly experienced Racism because I kept to my own. However now that I live in PE and in a white neighborhood racism is the soup of the day. One is not even free to take a walk. It is dialog like this that will allow us to beak this chain of thinking and feeling that we as black people do not belong in certain areas.


    • This is true. You should take a walk with your head held high love. You have just as much right as anyone else to live there and enjoy the beauty of your neighbourhood. Don’t allow ignorance to oppress you. No more.


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