Monday, May 7, 2007

Wesley Oakes

Wesley Oakes
Wesley Oakes is a final year undergraduate Sociology student at UKZN. He describes himself as a buffalo soldier. The son of a Jamaican and a Québécoise, his immense passion for Pan-Africanism has led him across the African continent. Before coming to UKZN he was a student of the University of Dar es Salaam. Durban, he says, is an enchanting spell which causes his mind to drift from consciousness to consciousness. It is a city of multiple realities and complex labyrinths that need exploration. A sociologist’s haven; then again, a nightmare. Uhuru na Ujamaa.

In his chapter, I’m an African not a Coloured, Canadian-born Wesley writes about being constructed as coloured in South Africa and his desire to be seen, instead, as black or African. Writing about his experiences as an outsider grappling with external identity constructions, his reflections illuminate the often taken-for granted everyday processes through which ‘racial’ identities are produced. Wesley constructs coloured as a less authentic identity than black or African, interpreting the former as an apartheid category.

In another chapter, The white and black sands of the Durban Beachfront, Wesley and Binium Misgun argue that the beach is not just a space for people to unwind and be their ‘natural’ selves, but a place where identity work proceeds, with ‘race’ very much to the fore. They investigate the informal post-apartheid racialisation of sand, showing how South Beach—the beach with the best facilities—became black, like the City centre. And just as whites moved away to the suburbs, they also moved from South Beach to the North. They examine how whites & blacks who go to North Beach construct it as safe, clean and white in relation to dirty, dangerous and black South Beach. They argue that these racial constructs intersect with class.

And in another chapter, Coloured ‘gangs’ as communities in Newlands East, Wesley writes about his experiences researching and living with ‘gangsters’ in Newlands East. We see how integrated the lives of ‘gangsters’ are with the wider community. Here, they are not depicted as people who prey on their communities, but as providing communal services, even through illegal activities. Wesley illustrates this in his account of a local tuck shop which merges the licit & illicit, where zol is sold alongside bread & sweets. The owner and assistants belong to a gang, have prison records, but are valued by the community for the tuck shop.

Oakes, Wesley. 'I’m an African not a Coloured', in Rob Pattman and Sultan Khan (Eds.), Undressing Durban (Durban: Madiba Press, 2007), pp. 78-81.

Misgun, Biniam, and Oakes, Wesley. 'The white and black sands of the Durban Beachfront', in Rob Pattman and Sultan Khan (Eds.), Undressing Durban (Durban: Madiba Press, 2007), pp. 118-125.

Oakes, Wesley. 'Coloured ‘gangs’ as communities in Newlands East', in Rob Pattman and Sultan Khan (Eds.), Undressing Durban (Durban: Madiba Press, 2007), pp. 270-278.