Clifton Beach, the ugly power of white privilege, in cahoots with black elites defending a shared class disposition

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Sunday a week ago, an incident at Clifton Beach, the nesting grounds of the super-wealthy at the foot of Africa, occurred that violently reminded South Africans how polarised a society it remains. This follows an uproar over reports that a private security company PPA Security had allegedly closed down Clifton Fourth Beach at sunset last Sunday. According to Mayoral committee member for safety and security, JP Smith private companies had no right to police public spaces, and that PPA was not acting on the City’s authority and was never given permission.

According to PPA, a privately contracted security company paid for by the residents of the area, they merely accompanied City of Cape Town law enforcement after two teenage girls were allegedly raped.  The words of CEO Alwyn Landman as shared with News 24, “We were requested to accompany law enforcement as our tactical officers are highly trained and skilled professionals. If anyone claims they were on the beach and chased away they would have seen that it was absolute mayhem and that law enforcement was really doing a great job to stabilise the situation – we did not close the beach,”

This incident naturally ignited anger and a lobby group named Black Peoples National Crisis decided to stage and event that included the practice of slaughtering a sheep. Activist Chumani Maxwele who gained prominence in the UCT Rhodes must fall student campaign for decolonisation of South African academic institutions, told SA“The offering of the sheep is calling on our ancestors to respond to our trauma at the hands of white people over the years,”  Maxwele went on to assert, “These private security guards are hired by the Clifton Taxpayers Association, they are actually briefed to not allow black people who appear to look like they are from the townships or criminals onto the beach.”  PPA has subsequently made known that they will no longer assist the metro – police at Clifton Fourth Beach.

What Maxwele next said, is perhaps the crux of our due consideration, “This is typical racial profiling, you cannot stop people from going to the beach and deem them a criminal just because they are black. We need to demystify this.”

 

We learnt that the Western Cape was initially investigating claims of an incident of attempted sexual violation of a 15-year-old girl, which was prevented by beachgoers who reported the incident to police According to Police spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa, “Preliminary findings of the SAPS investigation indicate that no rape was registered at Camps Bay SAPS. The police station services Clifton and Camps Bay beaches”

The ongoing saga which now has the EFF staging a night vigil on the beach in claiming of black people’s rights to access public spaces has taken many twists and turns that confirms it another, moment of reflection of a South Africa that 25 years on evidences a society struggling to deal with the demon of race, racism and white privilege.  Subsequent to the EFF’s vigil we learnt of an Afrikaner group that called Clifton Beach protestors kaffir barbarians. This is exactly why Clifton Beach cannot be ignored a single event, but perhaps a fulcrum of racial and class divide in defence of white privilege. It is not about the beach, it is about the failed transition in which apartheid beneficiaries continue to claim a superior identity and have very little resistance.

What then does the Clifton beach incident teach us about South Africa? Beyond the usual blame game and race defenders as we saw when those who share a denotation of white for their identity sought to claim this was not a racial but a criminal issue and racial hatred is being stirred by some. Beyond the political party theatrics of the DA who has been haemorrhaging since De Lille incident and simply do not need more claims of it as promoting racism. Even beyond the EFF’s vigil who with an eye on May 2019 hopes to score from this incident lies the responsibility for South Africans to engage and ask what Clifton Fourth Beach is today communicating.

Is Clifton reminding us all of the power of privilege? What then is a privilege? One definition read, “Privilege is defined as a benefit or set of benefits that members of certain social groups have. These benefits are usually unearned, and they are easy to take for granted when you have grown up as a member of a privileged social group. Think of privilege as being issues that you do not have to think about (or worry about!) on a daily basis.” Yet we must not confuse privilege with white privilege.

Clifton Fourth beach lays bare the undeniable reality of white privilege.  A definition of white privilege reads as follow, “White privilege (or white skin privilege) is the societal privilege that benefits people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.

Regardless of how South Africans seek to shove their collective proverbial ostrich head in a hole, white privilege lives in post-apartheid South Africa. Rand for rand those who live in this community are defined as white and those who are not white, who live here, constitute a tiny minority, do so as people who have been assimilated and co-opted into a community calibrated to the thinking, values and praxis of the community they became a part of.

Clifton unravels the power of class definition in a society that cannot shake the prominence of a racial and class divide.  While there are conflicting opinions and views on class definition, it is commonly accepted that,  “A social class is a set of subjectively defined concepts in the social sciences   and political theory  centred on models of social stratification in which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories, the most common being the upper, middle and lower classes.”

What beachgoers on arguably the holiest week of beachgoing in Cape Town experienced was that their class disposition as not being part of the surrounded community extends the upper class’ an inflated right that supersedes those of others to access public spaces. Hence its privilege of a private security company mandated by nothing less than the very same privilege can close a public space and demand beachgoers to leave, as a threat to the surrounding community.

Is Clifton Beach confirming the anomaly if not stark contradictions of how daily security companies are used to re-emphasize race, class and strange privatisation of public spaces? How many of us live in gated neighbourhoods? How many of us speak up against the ubiquitous prejudice in the WhatsApp groups, which use markers of ‘not belonging’? Clifton Beach is teaching us that for many the invitation to speak up against racism be it at the braai spot or in a WhatsApp group, is merely empty rhetoric since we rely on our class power to maintain apartheid boundaries.

Clifton equally so unveils the hypocrisy of the black elites, who really are thriving of the peripheral benefit of white privilege. While most thought white privilege is exclusively for the benefit of the apartheid configured white identity, we have in the last 25 years learned that white privilege thrives in a symbiotic atmosphere of the presence of unconscious black elites because it has a silent partner in the black elites. Their salience lays in this that they share a twisted and strange benefit with the racial class division with apartheid’s beneficiaries as adopted into the economic space of social life that pretends a grey area.

Clifton Beach reminds us that the Pre – 1994 Consensus protests eternalising the racial based divide of binaries of a white and black community separated by privilege in which what I termed a buffer zone of an economically privileged group was created to act as an insurance policy for the ongoing upkeep of white privilege. That buffer zone group I have long concluded makes up the new black elites. The latter has no problem with white privilege because it does not threaten them per se, provided they stay in the defined lines of what white privilege determines their breathable space. In fact, they as assimilated into the community of whiteness in a bizarre sense enjoys the fact that there are so few of them being a part of this unique space.

 

Clifton Beach also lays bare that privilege can determine what makes up for animal rights. South Africans have not yet come to embrace the cultural rituals and meaning of the less privileged, despite centuries of practices that constitute fundamental belief system, the African’s practices are sneered at and easily taken to a court in which the rights of animals are more sacrosanct. We must then ask what freedom means on the last day of 2018? When privilege rules the roost and white privilege control the access. We must engage what it means when animal rights are more important as determined by white privilege. We must again ask why is it disdainful to slaughter a sheep as a cultural and faith practice a very common thing in Africa when beer, alcohol and marijuana can be used on the beach.

 

When PPA last Sunday acted it was an act borne from the power of privilege anchored in white privilege that continues to live because racial profiling continues to thrive in SA and is aided by black elites the increasing enemy of true emancipation for the disenfranchised masses, we must ask can we continue being silent about class, privilege, the white identity and the black elites. Why are the leading figures in our society be it religious, political, academic, civil society, or judiciary silent on Clifton?

 

Those who at the drop of a hat can attack targeted politicians while they silent on their equally questionable friends in the same political space? They are silent because these constitute the buffer-zone, they neatly assimilated to the spaces of whiteness dare not speak up on Clifton because their class disposition long internalized them into the circumference of whiteness as calibrated neutralisers of the ongoing legitimate quest of true emancipation of the masses,

 

Do not even ask where is South Africa’s caretaker president Ramaphosa’s leadership in all of this? Well absent as always immanent in a public relations walk-about at Camps Bay thronged by whiteness and selfies, a stone’s throw away the nakedness of a failed transition is laid bare.

Clyde Ramalaine
Political Commentator and Writer
Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA
PICTURE: Supplied