Poverty and Respectability in Early Twentieth-Century Cape Town
Cape Town's black population of the early twentieth century actively pursued lifestyles that might be described as respectable. But respectability was expensive, and poverty --characterised by poor housing, ill health and shortened lifespans -- stood in the way of some of its most essential elements: cleanliness, sexual restraint, sobriety, and the creation of nuclear and gendered households. Black respectability, therefore, could not simply replicate that of the dominant white bourgeoisie. Most challenging was the development of rampant black criminality, often seen by contemporary observers as the result of the failure of black women to realise respectable households. Even attempts on the part of the state to create respectable citizenries floundered, partly because these initiatives were incompatible with the policies of racial segregation. The state and the dominant bourgeoisie put their faith in the black elite as the standard-bearers of respectability, but the reality was that the respectability of the 'superior' class was frequently indistinguishable from those below, a consequence of the fact that the boundary between these classes was highly porous.