RENTAL RACISM

WHAT HAP­PENS WHEN ‘LERATO’ AND ‘MELISSA’ ARE BOTH LOOK­ING AT THE SAME JO’BURG APART­MENT AT THE SAME TIME?

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - YOUR STORY - WORDS RE­FILWE BOIKANYO

‘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

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