Team SA certainly did us proud at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. One of the highlights was Wayde van Niekerk’s victory when he won a gold medal and broke the world record for the men’s 400m sprint. This great South African achievement quickly turned into a racial debate when people started calling it a “victory for the coloured community”. Many shared this sentiment and I agree with some of the viewsthat were opined. As a woman of colour myself that originated from the Cape Flats, I could identify with these writers.
However, many also believed that it was wrong for coloureds to claim Van Niekerk’s victory as their own or to say that he represented the coloured community. This is because of the apartheid classification of people with mixed heritage decades ago. These views, too, I understand.
With all the racial debate surrounding Van Niekerk’s win and articles written about it, nowhere did I see anyone asking the man himself how he felt representing the coloured community or if he even felt that he did. Instead, the media, and Facebook and Twitter “experts” were speaking for him. Some are calling him coloured and others are saying he is black. We don’t know what he identifies himself as, and until then nobody can claim that he represents any racial or ethnic group.
Generally coloured people are raised believing that that is what they are. The classification stayed long after apartheid ended and is still reinforced by our current government. This is evident by the boxes that require ticking at workplaces, schools, population censuses and so forth. It is also evident when companies have to consider economic empowerment when interviewing and hiring candidates. Though we’re free to tick the “other” box, when we’ve been called coloured and identified as such from a young age, we’re probably going to tick the coloured box and many have no problem doing so.
If you identify yourself as a coloured person despite knowing the origins of the term, then good for you. That is who you choose to identify as. It’s not for anyone else to tell you that you’re wrong and need to be liberated in your thinking because there is no such thing as a coloured race or culture, and to accept that you’re black.
Who are we to tell brown people that their coloured race does not exist and they should accept their blackness? On the flip side, who are we to tell them that they should accept that they’re coloured? The colour of your skin doesn’t automatically classify you as part of a certain race group. There are people with fair skin that consider themselves coloured. There are very dark people that don’t see themselves as black but coloured instead. Arabs have fair skin, but they’re not considered white/Caucasian and they’re certainly not afforded the same privileges.
There was a time when I, too, struggled to figure out what I was. I certainly wasn’t white, I am not a fan of the Klopse (Cape Minstrels) and I definitely could not identify with the black race. I was not familiar with their languages, cultures or traditions.
What I knew for certain was that I was Muslim and my family heritage stemmed from a mixture of people from the Far East, when they were brought to the Cape as slaves. We have our own traditions, culture and even food (artappel porring, akhni, boeber, frikkadel and yellow rice, denningvleis, koesisters). Therefore, I am a proud Cape Malay Muslim woman.
Others might see me as coloured or black, and that’s fine because it’s their opinion and not necessarily relevant. What’s important is how I identify myself and knowing my heritage and culture. That’s what’s important for everyone – knowing who you are. Whatever you choose to identify yourself as is nobody’s business and you don’t owe anyone an explanation for it and you shouldn’t put up with people telling you who they think you should be.
Achievement for coloured people and South Africa
Until we get a definite answer from Wayde, at the very least his achievement is something the whole of South Africa can celebrate. His victory can be seen as both an achievement for coloured people, many of whom continue to struggle under the legacy of apartheid, and for South Africa because of the opportunities the country has given him.
Considering the challenges coloured and black people face in South Africa, it is astounding that within two decades, so much sporting talent has made its way to the global stage. Imagine what could happen if we made more resources and opportunities available to struggling communities. There may be more Wayde van Niekerks or Luvo Manyongas just waiting to be discovered, and who would love to make their communities and country proud.
Originally posted here.