Every other student in Cape Town is a waitron. The job demand, among other things; efficiency, thinking on your feet, dexterity, hygiene and the ability to fake a world class smile in under 0.2 seconds flat. The hours are long since you’re on your feet throughout a shift. With these challenges at hand, facing racial prejudice on the job is about as fun as having chicken pox in summer. When I started waiting tables I was naive enough believe that hard-working waiters were tipped what they deserved. Not so. Specific areas, I was cautioned, would either not employ black waiters, or if they did, their patrons showed greater appreciation for white waiters instead, by tipping them accordingly or exceedingly. My flowery notion shriveled to dust when I noticed how almost all non-white waiters struggled with the Afrikaans language when confronted by Afrikaans patrons.
As I better understood the language it occurred to me that often, patrons spoke Afrikaans to annoy one and claim bad service and thus justify under-tipping after a meal. Why should I, a black person, OBVIOUSLY not of Afrikaans background, be expected to speak Afrikaans. That often perplexed me because you don’t hear black people addressing white South Africans in isiXhosa or isiZulu because we know it is not a language of their culture. Let me hasten to add that I did not speak any of the 11 official languages, having been raised in another country. How awkward and upsetting, it would be if a waitress of Xhosa origin addressed a white couple in isiXhosa, offering to take a drinks order and rambling the specials to them in her mother tongue. “Ja, jy is reg” (i.e. “yah, you are right”) I hear you muttering guiltily under your breathe.