Harvey remains flawed on the question of a Cape Town ‘Coloured’ workers-class identity of vulgarity


By:  Clyde Ramalaine

Harvey’s response dictates, he was dealing with Facebook vulgarity and he instructively demands us all stick to that as his debate, Yet, Harvey  deliberately seeks to deflect the pertinent issue I raise which is my entry to this discourse. That issue of Harvey’s blatant and callous classification of those he accuses of vulgarity in identity construction. He deliberately runs away from this issue.

He may not fully have realised what he was saying. Hence this is my entry and focuses on what Harvey shared.  I am not defending any expletives since I am not inclined to resort to use that in daily life,  discussion least or  writing.

To substantiate his claim of the ‘some from Cape Town’ notion he goes back in time to his experiential presence in the heartland of the Cape Flats with Manenberg as the epicentre was left shocked on how vulgar the Coloured People especially were in that city. Harvey, therefore, extends his some from Cape Town a closer proximation in the identity of the apartheid racial classification of  ‘ Coloured’.  As if that was not enough Harvey defines the ‘Coloured’ then in class distinctive notions of separation between the middle-class and the workers class with the latter the natural concentrated identity for this vulgarity claim.  Harvey draws attention to the fact that these profanities are uttered by  Cape Flats children in the age of under 10. Harvey then informs us that the school Silverstream High where he taught in Manenberg left him shocked to discover  ‘how embedded the most unsavoury and brutally vulgar language as uttered by pupils.’  With this Harvey  attempts to prove how pervasive this vulgarity manifests in what he defines in frames of a  ‘socio-cultural problem.’

Harvey draws on this ’70’s experience to accentuate the aspect of recent treatment he was served by among others in this season Abdul Karriem Matthews. I hold no brief for both Matthews and Gool, have never interacted with either of them. Harvey then expresses his challenge with Matthews for how his style and usage of profane language alienates Matthews and detracts from meaningful contribution since Harvey is put off from engaging in what is potentially a rightful and worthwhile debate.  Harvey in social scientist mind then seeks to locate the problem of this vulgarity to a time of slavery in Cape Town. 

He then introduces us to Neville Alexander whom he engaged on the topic. Harvey hastens to adjudicate on the conduct of Neville Alexander with his assertion, “This man was exemplary in how he both spoke and wrote to people. Not once did I hear one word of vulgar profanities from Neville.’ Harvey in his first post dedicated at least two paragraphs to talk of Alexander in ways of his association, interactions up to where they resided in not distant proximity of a Lotus River / Grassy Park community. Conspicuously absent though is Harvey introducing us to Alexander’s epistemology about his postulated vulgarity immanent in Cape Town Coloured workers-class identity.  Hence dragging in Alexander, a celebrated thinker in this instance appears merely part of the usual furniture decorations not with any sincere aim of improving his argument or the debate. Alexander’s stance while he is generously introduced into this mix-masala debate of vulgarity with loaded themes of assumptions of the identity of Cape Town people, ‘Coloured’, workers-class,  remains not silent. 

I was drawn to engage Harvey to better understand the man, the mind and his articulations on the aspects his post alluded to.  I essentially did so not to misunderstand the man. I do so as one born in Essex Street, Woodstock, one who spent considerable time in Mitchells Plain where I attended my high school years at Woodlands from where I went on the run in the mid-1980s. I do so because my grandparents on both sides were classified by the Apartheid Population register as Coloured. I do so because my parents while educators taught at the very same Cape Flats schools in 1980, I was in Grade 8 (the old standard six) at Crystal High in Hanover Park.  Silverstream -High was one of the schools we competed with during the annual athletic and sports calendar. 

So, when Harvey speaks of some people of Cape Town, he inadvertently includes me. When he speaks of Coloureds, he in social identity frame as borrowed from apartheid racial classification toolbox speaks of me. If he identifies those whom he declares as poisoned with the demon of vulgarity in uttering profanities Harvey, he speaks of people I may know.  Yet if Harvey attempts his lame and porous distinction of a middle-class and workers class vulgarity, he perhaps commits the worst of armchair analysis.  Since we all know the middle-class, he refers to use the same language he declared vulgar. Why then does Harvey deliberately give the middle class a free pass when we who lived in Cape Town know when anger sets in the same language flow. What is Harvey communicating with this assumption?

While Harvey casually in the matter-of-fact sense identifies the culprits as  ‘Coloured’’ Cape Flats workers-class people he is yet to explain the prevalence of the same among what he calls the middle class for using the very same language he abhors. While we do not purport to know what may have gone down in Harvey’s experience in Cape Town, is it possible that Harvey may have been rudely confronted with aspects of workers-class identity he may have wanted to escape in preference of sophisticated middle-class identity or elitism? Perhaps more interesting Harvey does not tell us how at personal a level self-identifies or if he finds himself in the privileged space to assume any of two apartheid defined and classified identities as bequeathed. This is not an uncommon reality for those who often claim struggle credentials. Is Harvey’s silence in this regard his biggest concession of his difficulty to identify with the racist identity frames of apartheid which a post-apartheid state as I have advanced uncritically adopted in frames of redress? 

Harvey’s flawed conclusions on a uniquely vulgar Cape Town ‘Coloured’ workers-class people prove challenging since he fails to explain his natural refuge in constructs and notions he glibly throws around less with paucity but in the conviction of I am Ebrahim since the 70’s always saturated in some or other struggle credential association flavour.

Harvey’s invoking of ‘cultured speech’ is another elitist mind that stands naked in basic clarification. It is incumbent on those who use constructs to desist assuming audiences have a uniform, linear and congruent understanding of what they may mean.  Unfortunately, in both instalments except for citing Trotsky continues to deny his readers his prism in this regard on Trotsky in critical analysis sense. We must now conclude Harvey merely cites Trotsky as a true believer not as the critical thinker he purports to be.

Harvey equally so in both his first and second lengthy instalment still fails to explain the construct of his narrow vulgarity except for restating words he was attacked with. He is entitled to his opinion but owes his listeners to know what he is talking about in the best of clarity of definition. I have no interest to defend words he attributes to Gool or Matthews to explain what he considers as vulgar.  My singular interest in this debate is to point out how racist classists and archaic Harvey is in his analysis of the Cape Flats community in their linguistic expressions as unique.

One is even more startled to discover how disconnected this journalist, and writer is on the community he seeks to lecture on their inappropriate language profanities. Perhaps Harvey and his type from their confirmed elitist glass-towers in bandied Trotskyan ‘cultured speech’ have not understood the vulgarity of violence and the profanity of brutality repressive systems of governance with its manifold tentacles that manifest in denial of identity, economic, opportunity, space, and access left as indelible scars on those he in whimsical fashion easily accuse of being vulgar.  Has it ever occurred to Harvey and his ilk that the ‘vulgarity’ he hears could merely be a re-echoing of the centuries of assault and abuse served by colonial, apartheid and in the last 26 years so-called democratic states respectively served this client? Can Harvey remotely exhibit the capacity to accept that these are possibly weapons in some cases the only weapons in response to the violence served?

Harvey is notoriously oblivious to the business-case of Exacted Punitive Inequality (EPI) that co-exists within a constitutional democracy immanent and tangible in daily practical life experiences for those he uniquely identifies as the culprits of his narrow vulgarity.  Incidentally, EPI is a construct we coined back in 2017 during Eldorado Park’s  SAHRC -led process in quest of equal opportunities. It is the notion of injustice served by officials in government offices who deem it their inalienable right to exact punishment on those who voted for contrary to what officials stand for. 

I ask again how Harvey would engage the everyday language usage of the Namakwalanders, are these also fitting the vulgarity and profanity narrow frames of the imported elitist ‘cultured speech’ lot. Does this not point to the need for Harvey to explain his assumed vulgarity notion in more than a few unacceptable words as unacceptable in public spaces more so in debate. On another level how will Harvey define the history of the people he singled out as not vulgarised one in what was served upon them?

Harvey in a moment of the pretence of sanity concludes, “The main reason why vulgarity is so rife also among teenagers and even children in Cape Town is simply that they grew up in that environment and against that historical background.” For the first time in the discourse Harvey attempts, sanity informed by contextual analysis. Yet just when we thought sanity finally prevailed Harvey veers off on his favourite proverbial dirt-road of an accusatory stance when he can’t resist telling us ‘interestingly and revealingly by far most of the fierce opposition to my post came from ‘Coloured’ people in Cape Town who themselves all grew up on the Cape Flats. What did Harvey expect, did he expect people from Limpopo to respond to him when he is categorically clear in his gross assumptions on those classified as Coloured that hails from Cape Town?

Unfortunately, Harvey comes across hyper-defensive and dictating on what constitutes debate. Realising he spun himself into a web of classical racist and class assumptions of the Cape Town ‘Coloured’ workers-class, Harvey towards the end of his second instalment introduces a new unrelated subject of how racist ‘Coloureds’ can be towards ‘African’ people again observed while living In Cape Town in the ’70s. While every racist attempt regardless its forms must be condemned with the necessary conviction, what Harvey does he is so shallow and weak because he wants to use this as a veiled means to justify his exposed racist bile towards Cape Town ‘Coloureds’ as justified.  I must admit Harvey is all over the place.

Beyond Harvey’s known demeaning candour in engaging those who disagree with him in public debate,  he fails to make any coherent argument to argue against what he stands accused of. Harvey the one who simply cannot write two sentences without name-dropping, in this instance the name of again Azhar Cachalia who advised him to block those on FB who served him in profanity and vulgar,  He has a hard time defending his claims of a unique Cape Town ‘Coloured’ people of workers-class description to be vulgar.

Harvey finds comfort to view those who disagree with him as beneath him only because he can drop names of essentially politicians, unfortunately, remains fingered for his glaring racist and classist stance which he considers his dignified contribution to the solicitation of a debate.  Harvey cannot deny that we heard him loudly and that hubbub emanates from an apprehensive aloof, elitist mind who attempted to insult Cape Town people of Coloured and workers-class descriptions with broad strokes of assumptions yet emptiness of substance. That is what we take from his first and second attempt and concludes this engaging on my part.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Litt.et. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA