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South Africa: Post-apartheid, but still colour conscious

Dr Sima Barmania

Untitled 113 South Africa: Post apartheid, but still colour consciousReturning to South Africa, I am always confronted by the extent to which this is a country of such stark contradictions.

“First world- Third World” Is a common phrase often mentioned, in a tone of nonchalant acceptance. On the one side elaborate hotels and grandiose residences share the same vicinity as tin roofed slums; while people beg weaving through the panoply of  Mercedes CLKs and 4 by 4’s.

Since the two years that I last visited, there have been visible changes- new airports and international conference centres and stadiums to cater for last year’s much anticipated and symbolic World Cup.

South Africa is a country keen to exonerate itself of its not so distant apartheid past.

Road signs have been assiduously changed from the Afrikaans names of the architects of apartheid to the now African names synonymous with its demise. However, although the institutions, structures and laws have changed, alarmingly remnants of colour consciousness still exist.

Watching a common national lifestyle television programme, a presenter is shown around the ostentatious home of Sorisha Naidoo- a former Asian beauty queen and now part of the bourgeoisie and highest echelon of society. She made a successful business out of selling “Pure Perfect”- a skin lightening cream. Apparently the 32 year old looks objectively paler in recent years, a phenomenon she seems eager to exhibit and market to others, but that I and many others find offensive and disgraceful.

Absurdly, clients can either chose the Pure Perfect Cream “that will lift as much as 2-4 shades” or  the Pure Perfect Parfait a gel-based moisturiser that will lift as much as “4-7 shades or as much as your body will allow”.

Alas, the archaic practice of skin bleaching has existed for centuries and I am aware that such practices are still commonplace in Pakistan and India. However, I expected more of South Africans; that they would not fall prey to such explicit messages that equates whiteness with beauty.

Perhaps what is more upsetting is not that such products exist in the first place and are readily available but that they are condoned and not boycotted like they ought to be- Further reinforcement that those of us of colour are somewhat lesser beings.

There can be a myriad of structural changes; names of roads can be changed for miles across the country, but there has to be something else.

Mindsets have to change, and people of colour need to somehow reconcile their own insecurities of their oppressed colonial past with how they wish to be perceived positively in the future.

  • Guest

    i think you are too pessimistic- look how quickly women of all shapes, sizes, sexualities and COLOUR have shrugged off the ‘colonisation ‘ of their minds and their bodies in less than a generation

  • toti839

    I visit SA every year for a few months and do not find that attitudes have changed considerably. To say that SA is colour conscious is like saying it only exists there and the rest of the world is sooo liberal. But that is not what i am trying to say. In SA it is not consciousness of the colour but completer separation of communities, based on colour. Most of the country has  areas where only blacks live and whites never visit. friends are made only within the same community. Local Indians try to make friends with whites and what i hear some accept invitations to eat nice food from Indians but do not return the treat. You hardly see mixed couples or whites having any social contact with blacks. Indians avoid blacks also, although many blacks live in so called Indian areas, as Indians do not show disdain for them. I have heard few rich blacks moving to white areas, but going back to original domicile because of this look down mentality of the white.
    SA has democratic system and tolerates this attitude of non blacks; they are also the ones with least income. The unemployment of their youth is above 30%. THe money is in the hands of the whites, most of who live in large gardens, swimming pools. have maids and gardeners. AND I live in their areas to get away from european winters and enjoy friendly people, both black and white. Am I contracting my statements? You be the judge.

  • George Lennan

    “People of colour” what a divisive phrase that is. It’s only when everyone recognises that white is a colour too that we’ll realise that we’re all one race.

    Alright… a horrible, destructive, fearful, nasty verminous race, but I’m not going to let that get in the way of my hippy hopes for a united rainbow of creeds and colours singing coca cola songs together around the world….


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