[OPINION] The sad, sterile politics of Melissa’s Camps Bay
On 43 Victoria Road in Camps Bay you will find Mantra Café (and bar). Proudly brought to you by the Melissa’s chain of restaurants - famous for their pay-off line “food, home, gifts”.
Their younger, wilder sibling Mantra doesn’t have a pay-off-line, because if it did, it would probably go something like this: “Cocktails, trust-fund babies and apartheid: the gift that keeps on giving”.
This week, Rachel Irvine of Irvine and Partners brought social media to the attention of the café’s decal clad walls and vintage photo coasters.
Some expensive designer sat down with a rich restaurant chain owner and after little deliberation and even less critical thinking, they decided that both walls and coasters should shout “whites only”. The photos feature the privileged few of our country in the old days of yore sunning their superior epidermises on the beach. You know, the beaches that only whites could go to before people of colour made everything kak.
Now, we’re all human. We cannot get away from a degree of nostalgia, but not all of us have a burning longing for the past. The past to us is not a time of sunbathing in an exclusionary utopia. We live in the present. And in this now, our now, white-nostalgia deserves zero sentimentality.
In his novel An Instant in the Wind, André Brink writes, “The land which happened inside us no one can take away from us again, not even ourselves.” That land is a mortal land scattered with the memory of the lives you picked from it so you could take the pictures you wanted. Sterile. “Clean” of other races and other cultures. But that death of that segregation is forever yours as well, and no decal will change that. Your nostalgia is our nausea.
Those pictures were taken in a vacuum, but white-nostalgia no longer exists in isolation. Let me spell this out for you owner of Mantra: you have a responsibility to share the right message so that people (customers in your case) can actually appreciate your stance, what you believe in and what you’re unconditionally committed to. Is your commitment the dompas? Is that what I need to enter your establishment?
There is no longer such a thing as a well-intentioned intention. Please explain to me how the intentions of stepping on an entire nation’s feelings by putting up pictures that basically say “slegs blankes” is well-intentioned and innocent? It isn’t. It is thoughtless and the owner’s intentions are irrelevant, unless of course the sole purpose of such “profound” design has blessed the restaurant with the desired impact. That is: No people of colour will come here because these pictures let them know they are not wanted without us ever having to openly be racist. Well?
Dear white-nostalgia, your longing is your loss. It is the sadness you feel when you think about a time of joy and satisfaction that has reached its expiration date. It is the whining of your senses that will not quit because you know that loss is not yet complete – it can never be complete. You cling on to a victory from the past because the present is filled with a continuation of defeat that you cannot stop. From your beaches to your benches we take our seats. And the little life you breathe into the paradise of your past with your marketing that exhales bias and racism will have its breath cut short through the legions of those who finally have a voice. You will lose. Again. And again. And again.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment. Follow her on Twitter.