WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ‘LERATO’ AND ‘MELISSA’ ARE BOTH LOOKING AT THE SAME JO’BURG APARTMENT AT THE SAME TIME?
‘am I being overly sensitive, looking into this situation too much … or were they being racist?’ This is the type of question I habitually ask myself in my various day-to-day experiences. Like when I walk into a store expecting to be served, but the salesperson behaves as if I’m not there, instead choosing to focus on things like organising the shelves. But the minute a white person enters the store, that employee immediately drops everything to give them attention. Or when I am told that the restaurant where I want to make a reservation is fully booked,only to find out that my white colleague has secured a table for a bigger party, even though she calls a few minutes after I do.
I could go on and on, listing situations like this. Situations that made me feel unwelcome and gave me the impression that local businesses don’t think I’m as worthy of attention and customer service as my white counterparts. But I’m wary to pull out the race card until I’ve done some probing, because these situations can be quite ambiguous. Maybe the salesperson was really busy, didn’t see me or literally had just finished their task when the other customer walked in. Maybe after I tried to make a reservation, someone else called to cancel theirs. It would be easier for me to accept these possibilities if they weren’t frequent occurrences that happen to me and countless other black South Africans.
One of the most resented forms that this discrimination takes is in the rental market. Twenty years into democracy, and our major cities are still noticeably segregated.How much of a part does racism from owners and landlords play in maintaining this status quo?
Stories aren’t hard to come by.Refiloe SeraiMzolo, a 28-year-old writer, says she was discriminated against last year when she was searching for an apartment in Jo’burg’s northern suburbs. Since it was easy to identify her race from her first name alone, Refiloe started signing her emails with her second name, Patricia. She was then invited to view more properties in her chosen areas. ‘I could see when I arrived for my appointments that some of the agents were shocked that I was black,’she says.Other black apartment hunters, who also have English names, say that agents and property owners would comment that they ‘didn’t sound black’, suggesting they wouldn’t have arranged the viewings if they could trace their ethnicity in voice or accent.
Last year, Keobakile Msunse, a 26-year-old business developer, says she had a more