Cape Dutch

Anyone familiar with South Africa knows that its impact with the Dutch produced a contentious past-– a historical collision that had enough momentum to produce repercussions in the present. But you wouldn’t guess any of that if you landed here in the Cape on Tuesday night.

Hours before the Dutch national team and Uruguay faced each other in the Cape Town, it looked as if the whole coastline – from the Cape Flats (the windswept, marshy areas to which those of “mixed” ancestry were forcibly removed during the 20th century) to the Atlantic seaboard (location of multimillion paeans to modernist architecture) – was swept in orange. Tuesday’s 2010 World Cup semi final was the last game to be held at the Green Point Stadium, and Capetonians and Dutch visitors alike flooded the streets of the city in orange afro wigs, orange miner-style overalls, orange oversized clown spectacles.

Vuvuzelas, the new South African contribution to the world’s cultural economy, and duck whistles – the Dutch fans’ contribution – blared out ear-splitting duets of mutual respect, support, and love to each other. If this were a Bollywood film, there’d be fields of tulips and proteas in which this love struck inter-national romance could bloom.

My friends and I took a circuitous route to avoid the crowd, beginning on the road named for Jan van Riebeeck – and re-joined the main wave on Somerset Road as they crossed the pedestrian walkway over the major intersection with Buitengracht Street.

In the civilized crush of the Fan Walk, I spotted a lone Uruguayan wearing a Forlan jersey. I greeted her, and she was ecstatic at being recognized. But for the most part, the local support is for the Dutch: two koesister-plump tannies from the Flats (above), in orange ankle-length dresses and scarves, are here to support the Dutch team, never mind that they are Muslim, and descendants of East Indians brought as exiles and slaves by the Dutch to build this city, work the vineyards, mind the children of the madams and sexual needs of their masters, and cook for entire farms and households.

But the dangerous liaison between the Netherlands and South Africa is hard to forget. The Fan Walk to Green Point Stadium is littered with signposts of that collision: a statue of Jan van Riebeeck and his wife remains proud on Adderley Street, the central throughway that connects the Cape Town Station – itself built as a monument to highlight the exploits of the Afrikaner, replete with tiled murals of the Great Trek – with the rest of the city.

The walk begins at the newly refurbished station, the facelift all but effacing the building’s apartheid history for those Capetonians who have been privileged enough to never use public transport outside of World Cup glitter. The flawless walls and flooring provided by the architect Mokena Makeka of Makeka Design Lab erase the dirty secret for the benefit of the visitors: it is those who were forcibly removed from this city – with the strategic use of the Group Areas Acts to make way for those of solely European descent – that regularly use this station on their hour-long commute back to the city to service the homes and businesses of white inhabitants.

My Capetonian friends have mixed feelings about the Cape’s support of the Dutch national team: one points out that the Netherlands, for whatever colonial guilt/responsibility reasons, were the first country to support South African football, providing money and support for training programs in black townships; and Kermit Erasmus and Daylon Claasen, who made the South African squad, had the benefit of playing in the Dutch teams – Excelsior Rotterdam and Ajax Amsterdam, respectively. In cities like Cape Town, which had historically supported the “white” sports, rugby and cricket, lack of access to facilities once hampered football training. Dutch investment changed that history.

So there are lots of reasons why South Africans should support the Dutch team. “But,” contends Cindy, a fine leather-goods designer, “it’s not an educated choice. I don’t know why Cape Coloureds still support the Dutch, as if it were the National Party they were voting for, all over again.” We were breaking things down, after Germany met its tactical match in Spain on Wednesday night. Like many South Africans, she had been all for Ghana, though her brother had questioned her choice: “Why support Ghana?” he asked. “They are half a world away. We have no connection with them. At least, our family history is half Dutch.”

Gerald Jacobs, a Youth Development Programme Manager at Mamelani Projects, explains it to me in simple terms: “To many in the older generation, the Dutch are still ‘die Bass’, Neelika. Coloured grandmothers who lived to be over a 100, on their first opportunity to vote in ’94, voted for the National Party. And were proud to say it on national television.” Many in the younger generation also have a hard time questioning some of the long-term effects of that historical hangover on their psychology; it shows up in the oddest places, like in the choice of the nation that the Cape goes all out to support in the World Cup.

Though the modern inhabitants of The Netherlands may make a concentrated effort to separate themselves from the architects and upholders of apartheid, the Dutch are still linked, in the minds of their descendants, with power and access. And people who have historically been on the margins of power – especially those located in the middle ground between the powerful and the powerless – are especially susceptible to continuing to worship old systems of power. While most Dutch people I know would be horrified that it is this very hangover from the apartheid-era that produces the “orange wave” in Cape Town, it is what it is.

Gerald, however, has always been a person who sees situations for all their complex beauty. “In the Cape, we have this saying: “Die Kaap is Hollands!” It doesn’t necessarily mean, “The Cape is Dutch”; instead, he explains, the phrase denotes energy, chaos, change. “We say it when the wind is blowing, when the Cape Doctor (the Sou’ester wind) arrives in the summer, blowing the skirts of ladies.”

When “die Kaap is Hollands”, there’s room for possibility amidst the chaos, the breakdown of societal propriety allowing for generation. Perhaps that’s what the carnival that arrived with football (or if you want to be “real”, this hyper-transactional version of the beautiful game), a game once dismissed and vilified in South Africa as a “black” sport, that no self-respecting head-scarved Muslim auntie from Mannenberg would be caught dead supporting, has brought to the Cape.

* This post introduces Neelika Jayawardane as the newest member of the Africa is a Country conspiracy.– Sean Jacobs



Neelika Jayawardane

Sharp-tongued literature professor. Senior editor at Africa is a Country.

  1. you koek suster :-) thanks for the interesting piece. while colonial history is really important as a substrate for understanding the widespread orange support … current international relations and positionings should surely have a major bearing too – not sure what these may be in current era? beyond the Ajax investments in soccer, my limited awareness of Dutch presence and visibility in current South Africa generally suggests either a “modest” (as in low-key)engagement, or a relatively limited or uncontroversial one

  2. Support for the Dutch was primarily an act of revenge against Uruguay for knocking out Bafana and robbing Ghana of their place in the semi-final. Had South Africa faced the Netherlands that night, it would have been a completely different story.

    It’s a quite disingenuous to say that “Dutch investment changed” the history of football support in the city. That statement erases the years of development work done by the likes of traditionally big clubs like Hellenic and Cape Town Spurs in the development of young players. Dutch investment had more to do with a profit motive than anything else. Cape Town has always been a football-supporting city and characterizing it as anything else shows a huge lack of knowledge of grassroots lived experience.

    There are too many untruthful assertions in this piece. The writer’s characterization of soccer in Cape Town as being “a game once dismissed and vilified in South Africa as a “black” sport, that no self-respecting head-scarved Muslim auntie from Mannenberg would be caught dead supporting” stands out as a huge flashing red light and betrays her utter lack of knowledge on the subject. I grew up on the Cape Flats with a father who played semi-pro, playing football myself and attending football games at venues across the city from Matroosfontein to Bonteheuvel and Vygieskraal where seeing a “head-scarved Muslim auntie from Mannenberg” screaming her lungs out in support of Sea Point Swifts, Lightbodies Santos or Goodwood Rangers was quite the norm.

  3. What a pity I couldn’t interview you to include yr viewpoint – but glad you are able to include yourself through comments section. Of course, the people I spoke to (because ideas are produced communally) are, of course, long-time football fans, players, and some now train youth leagues in their home areas. Yes, Hellenic and Spurs “invested” long before Ajax swooped in: I had to maintain this to 500 words, so all complexities are impossible to include (it’s longer anyhow). But how fun that you assume my “utter lack of knowledge” as a swooping-in cultural colonial, much like Ajax themselves. I hope I get my millions someday…

  4. @ Chris: true – the Dutch tend to fund art projects. Very low key. I saw an amazing project in the Blank Architecture museum circa 1998 – a collaboration with South African architects, photographers, and writers, on the link between apartheid and building design/ public&private space design. And recently, they funded a series of interviews in Indonesia about the atrocities committed during the colonial period. Quite harrowing, and strange for the nation that still keeps the tradition of Black Peter to deal with, I imagine.

  5. @Sean I’m assuming this is Neelika Jayawardane responding as Sean. Anyway, football always elicits an emotional response. It’s an unofficial religion in my family that I’ve disowned years ago but still manage to get myself caught up in when it matters. Using the limited to 500 words defence doesn’t excuse the factual inaccuracies. Making racially based assertions that have no basis in fact is terribly dangerous and could be extremely damaging in the South African context.

    As a researcher myself, I am all too aware of the traps one can fall into when writing about a society that’s not your own. We can avoid these traps by doing thorough social anthropological research that is both theoretically and methodologically sound.

  6. That was @Neelika, not me.

    Just a quick comment: If by her comment ‘… a game once dismissed and vilified in South Africa as a “black” sport, that no self-respecting head-scarved Muslim auntie from Mannenberg would be caught dead supporting, has brought to the Cape…” Neelika is referring to coloureds’ aversion to “black” upcountry teams–like Orlando Pirates or Kiazer Chiefs or not supporting Seven Stars before it became Ajax–just because they were were “black” (or “too black”) then she is on to something.

    I have written about this in an essay I did for a special issue of the journal _Soccer and Society_ to coincide with the World Cup (it was published earlier this year and read by millions–ha ha–of academics who care about football) about growing up playing and watching football in Cape Town during Apartheid.

    Read for the punch line till the end. (Or this is just an excuse for me to reminisce again about football):

    At this point in the essay I described the labyrinth of leagues defined by race or politics. I discuss amateur football of the anti-apartheid SACOS sports union, its affiliate professional league the FPL (which included Santos and Battswood) and the “white” clubs Spurs and Hellenic. Then I wrote this:

    “… Finally there was televised football on state television’s TV2. The television station started in 1983 for “Africans.” South Africa only had one television channel, TV1, from 1976, when television was first introduced in South Africa—after much trepidation about its corrupting influences from Apartheid’s rulers—until 1983. This station essentially catered to the country’s white minority. When it came to sports, TV1 was reserved for rugby, tennis, cricket, golf and bowling (what some people call lawn bowling). If football was shown, it was the Cup Final games of the British, mainly the English, professional football association, or later highlight packages of league games …

    In 1983, the SABC launched a second channel—dedicated to black viewers. This channel, which regionally split as TV2 and TV3, broadcast mainly in the most popular black languages: Zulu and Sotho. In most of its programming black people were usually depicted in rural, pastoral surroundings, or playing “traditional” music. The government and the SABC wanted to maintain a certain image of black people. Like with TV1, the SABC ensured that the channel vigorously police the boundaries of “races.” This was at odds with black’s people reality—whether as urban subjects, the way migrant labor linked the countryside to the cities or the intimate relationship between the homelands and “white South Africa.” Increasingly the SABC bosses faced pressure from “reformers” in the ruling party and elements in business, and lobbying from black sports officials to show black people’s sports, especially football.

    And it was on TV2 and TV3 which began to broadcast sports, where the SABC showed slippages in how it depicted black people. For example, the presence of a small group of white players and coaches showed mixing (of the races would not mean the end of the world) blacks were shown doing things associated only with white people, like running a professional sports league,

    This was the football of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), which later became the National Soccer League (NSL) [after a power struggle between the most powerful club owners and the league president] .

    Most of the clubs were from the black (meaning African, and not coloured) townships around Johannesburg, the industrial heartland of South Africa. The NSL, unlike the FPL (which was more popular among coloureds and in Kwazulu-Natal among Indians), enjoyed blanket coverage in the major black newspapers and on state-owned black language radio stations. Its players were mini-celebrities. That it featured on television certainly added to the league’s national profile.

    I loved the commentators on TV2’s football broadcasts though I did not understand a word of the commentary—I only started learning Xhosa in 1988. The commentators included men like Zama Masondo and Dan Setshedi. The latter, a genial, overweight man, who spoke through a nasal twang and sounded like he was imitating American sports commentators.

    The commentators often made up for uninspiring and often amateurish production values. Television broadcasts of games were characterized by static camera work (often by a single camera stationed at midfield), unsophisticated graphics, and more often that not incorrect information about players or league standings.6

    Some of these commentators invented their own version of the South American “Gol!” celebration with one of their own in Zulu: “Laduma!” which literally means “It thunders!” To get the full extent of both these, think the vowels dragged out for about a full minute each.

    The NSL was never that popular in Cape Town. This football was frowned upon (by a few dedicated activists really) for not being anti-apartheid enough. Others went on about the fact that the two clubs which usually ended up representing the region in the NSL, where from the city’s white suburbs. These two clubs were Hellenic and Cape Town Spurs. Though both clubs had some black players, people in the townships did not necessarily identify with them.

    The NSL was also marred by frequent violence and by allegations of favoritism of its top clubs.

    The fact that for a long time only two clubs—Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs—really counted in the league in terms of sponsorship or exposure, also had a lot to do with it.

    But for others, I think, it was simply because it was “African,” and not coloured, football.”

  7. @Sean: I’m one of the “millions -hahaha- of academics” who read your trenchant essay and assigned it as part of a section on Coloured identity in a course on South Africa that I teach. Based on research and on the lived experiences of my cousins and aunts who lived in Cape Town during this period what you wrote was right on the money.

    Neelika’s piece makes some interesting points but I wonder what conclusions the writer would draw if the essay took into consideration the fact that Coloured identity goes beyond the Muslim(Asian)and White matrix? Also, does Dutch colonialism really have much of a resonance or is it rather the Afrikaner question that is pertinent? Yes, I know that Afrikaners are descendants of the Dutch but isn’t the distinction between the two clear enough that identifying one with the other becomes a gross and inaccurate generalization?

  8. Sean’s clarifications add the details – thanks for that. On the one hand, it’s great that some kids who played football experienced support from their communities with no reservations (as did Maluka), while others experienced a different story altogether (to open another can of worms, people tell me that vuvuzela-use was traditionally associated with being “black”; therefore, it was the visitors to the country who really took it on, and made it palatable for white South Africans to enjoy – to the extent that they were being blown at a rugby game that had to be held in Soweto). In any society hyper-aware of racial markers, people become very mindful of avoiding the things that may identify them with the Other. Case in point: in Sri Lanka, where my parents were born, the war is between Sinhala and Tamil. A Sinhala lady at a sari shop tells me that the sari that was passed to me by my mother (bought in the 60s, pre-civil war) has “Tamil” colours (never mind that many of the saris in her shop were probably from Madras). So I am to avoid those colours, in case it identifies me with a “lower” set of tastes.
    @ekapa: true, for sure, “Coloured” ID is hardly lumpable into a simple spot between X and Y. Desiree Lewis, Zimitri Erasmus and others have done wonderful work pointing out the problematic assumption that any creole ID is a “half and half” mix. And also yes about the Afrikaner ID/history being the more pertinent. So I was wondering: so what is the resonance between modern Dutch soccer/the Cape? How is that history now being employed?

  9. I would suggest that, in the popular imagination, which has forgotten the colonial Dutch role in slavery in SA, an identification with the Dutch team is a cultural (linguistic) affiliation and possibly a demarcation that claims that affiliation in order to undermine and transcend the nationalist Afrikaner strains of Dutch affiliation.

    It’s a tension that exists still in Afrikaans, a mother tongue for many people. Laying claim to Afrikaans (or supporting the Dutch team) is a reclamation that undermines notions of exclusivity (and purity).

    Further, despite the colonial history and apartheid, (but also because of apartheid), people also often worked, pre-sanctions, for Dutch bosses, who would be far more liberal in social relations with employees than white SA bosses. And this runs parallel to the idea that, isolated (they didn’t have the internet then), the colonial Dutch at the Cape (and the evolving Afrikaner identity) stagnated in its Calvinism while Holland became the most broad-minded society in Europe.

    All in all, among many Afrikaans-speaking people, there may be a fondness for things Dutch that doesn’t automatically translate into Stockholm syndrome.

  10. Interesting story, Sean and Neelika!

    I also spotted a brief report on the same topic on the Dutch tv programme EenVandaag (not the best news broadcast admittedly). It’s about a music group from Leiden and/or Delft in Western Cape that supports the Dutch team.

    Apparently, the Dutch consul paid for their orange uniforms… Ouch! Check it out here:

  11. @Neelika and RK: Rustum’s brilliantly articulate response really nails this one. Respect.

    I would also add that for those Coloureds whose ID is not Muslim/Asian/Dutch, the slavery of the Dutch colonial period is not part of their history and so affiliation with things Dutch is not some kind elision of history. For this group, the Dutch as oppressors play a very marginal generalized historic role, if at all,that really has no present day resonance.

  12. Thank you for the interesting article Neelika. I recently studied abroad in Cape Town and after reading a friend’s facebook status (something along the lines of the Dutch team making her Dutch great grandfather proud) I began to think about the complex situation of Coloureds rooting for the Netherlands.From what I can discern from my South African friends, it seems as though many Coloureds are supporting the Dutch team due to historical ties while the blacks are avenging Ghana’s defeat. I’m sure it doesn’t play out quite neatly along those lines though. As a black West Indian who lives in the states, I am very much aware of the relationship to one’s colonizer/oppressor.While in CT I noticed that some people, both black and Coloured, had a strange admiration for aspects of white identity. This happens all across the world. For example, many blacks throughout the diaspora despise their natural hair and opt to straighten or otherwise hide it in order make it appear a bit closer to a white person’s hair texture. It seems as though the support of the Dutch is yet another manifestation of this syndrome.Or perhaps some Coloureds prefer to accept and love all parts of their identity, regardless of how it came to be. I’m not entirely sure. This article was an interesting and relevant read. I’m also happy that it raised so many questions. I enjoyed reading the comments as well.

    Also Sean, how can I access the article that you wrote for the journal? I would love to read it.

  13. I can’t really understand why these women on the picture would root for Holland.

    Does Gert Wilders ring a bell?

    Please, at least, take the veil off. You are embarrassing your fellow faith Sisters in Holland, who are having hard time to practice their faith, and not to mention 24 hours Islamophobia in the media.

    For me, the World Cup ended when Cameroon lost to Denmark.

    BTW, how tragic it is for South Africa if Holland wins the Cup

    Must feel like rubbing salt into wound.

    Of course, China would never allow Japan to win the Cup, if China was the host nation. First, they would prepare very well, or at least, they would not host the tournament if they can not see any beneficial outcome; whether economic growth or nationhood pride, which neither can be concluded South Africa gained.
    All in all, a fiasco tournament.

  14. RK: you hit it.
    And @ Tayat: oooh, I can’t say that I’d agree that the two joyful, energetic, and perfectly “together” women in the image are any more oppressed than any of us – they shouldn’t have to remove a veil or any article of clothing in order to prevent lunatic levels of hatred towards Muslims; no one is asking my NY university students to stop wearing blue jeans, after all. And I say that knowing the politics of veil wearing is too huge to get into here, and that blue jeans have a different cultural resonance – just attempting to illustrate that we should be mindful of not allowing someone like Geert Wilders to use a culturally relevant piece of clothing to incite division and hate (or submit to that rhetoric by complying).

    I didn’t include the image of these sparkly ladies to shame them/show them as an example of mindless oppression and enslavement to a former colonial power, but to actually capture the bewildering complexity of the situation.

  15. @Sean: There are people who hold those views but I think issues that influenced people’s choice of team back then had more to do with geography and language than race but we can debate that another time. @Neelika: Vuvuzela use had more to do with it not being a Cape Town thing rather than it being a black thing since black Cape Town teams didn’t have them. Like the decorated helmets, they have their roots in Johannesburg football and mining culture.

    I agree with what RK has said and what ekapa has followed up with.
    South Africans still tend to think of the historical “Dutch” who colonized and did these awful things to our ancestors as these evil white people when in fact the reality is that many of the “Dutch” Governors at the Cape like Simon van der Stel were in fact mixed race or “coloured” as they would be described in contemporary South Africa.

    The current Dutch team is captained by a person of Indonesian descent. The right-wing Geert Wilders Tayat speaks of is also of Indonesian descent. Present day Holland is far from the monoracial entity many people imagine.

    I would caution against the generalization that “Coloureds are supporting the Dutch team due to historical ties while the blacks are avenging Ghana’s defeat”. It assumes too much and speaks towards a one dimensional “coloured” identity. One only has to look at recent Xenophobic attacks to be reminded of the problematic relationship black South Africans have towards the rest of Africa. What Desiree also touches on relates to survival strategies that young “coloured” and black South African employ and is something I’ve commented on before: “my generation of black people in this country are immigrants into South Africa. We are the new South Africans. South Africa is a country that already existed, but it was a white country from which we were excluded. We have been entering this space … and in this process there is a lot of negotiation and renegotiation that is taking place and what you find is that people need to switch accents in order to fit in with the dominant group which is white people in this society”.

    I support Holland because I’ve actually lived there. It’s ironic that I am treated better in Amsterdam than I am in Cape Town. The colour of my skin does not determine the kind of service I will receive in restaurants over there. Also, like many Capetonians my age, I also grew up being a fan of Gullit, van Basten and Rijkaard.

  16. As a sometimes-Muslimah/Arab/African/generally mixed brown lady, I’m gonna stay out of this one, but point out NYTimes hilarity:

    Enjoy the article and the final. I personally will wait till black Americans and Canadians figure out Africa isn’t just a fab locale for their paternalistic research and football fandom to celebrate much else. This debate is not limited to South Africa by any means.

    Fun though, inn’it?

  17. As a side issue – a side side issue, really – I’d like to point out that contemporary memories of the Dutch in the Cape often take a pretty simple view. There’s been some coverage in the international press along the lines of what Neelika has written here, but with less insight. Unfortunately that coverage tends to assume a very close association between modern day Netherlands with the events of centuries more or less initiated by van Riebeeck and Co in 1652. My friend Kameraad Mhambi wrote a pretty good blog post complicating the simple picture here:

  18. @Sophia and Muray Hunter: the comments and links that people provided here are what made this post a proper, informative, nuanced conversation – sadly not so for the NYT article (WTF why are they quoting some Fulbright in KZN? Laziness). I think it’ll be a good idea to give my students the links to these two articles, and have them do the analysis. Hilarious tone in Mhambi’s article, BTW.

  19. Neelika, your writing is acutely delightful to read as always. A few comments though:

    1) I live unfortunately close to the stadium. Dangling from the balcony of a neighbouring flat I spotted a black characters scrawled banner declaring “De Kaap is weer Oranje”

    2) When you eat roast beetroot, your pee for the next couple of days comes out rose coloured. It’s one of the few times that the emmition of scarlet hued bodily fluids signifies something good for you. Ask Manto Tshabalala Msimang.

    3) The upgraded flooring of the train station is not so much flawless as floorless. Try walking there. You don’t so much walk on the ground but glide across the disintegrating membrane of the present. I don’t want to imagine how it’s like when they wet it. You’d think they were trying their hardest to break as many necks in as short a time as possible.

  20. Siddiq,
    1. At least it's not Die Kaap is weer Oranje-Vrijstaat on that banner.
    2. I can't. She's dead.
    3. So you mean that this city's public transport hub isn't meant to be inviting those wearing 4-inch Louboutins? How dare Makeka be so exclusionary!

  21. Not quite sure how I stumbled on this, I was actually looking for Cape dutch Interiors(!!!), but…

    initially I thought – this person is bitter, but the humor is good and deep – I too lived in the shadow of Lions head and Signal hill but now Sydney, australia – and miss the humor of the Cape Coloured / Slamaaier – long may they live and never lose their colour – good for the veil wearing mama’s!!

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