Cape Town beach dispute unearths the spectre of unrepentant apartheid
December in Cape Town in apartheid SA was a time when many in my community headed for the beach. Not to the pristine, postcard-type beaches designated by law as exclusive playgrounds for whites, but to the more dangerous and undeveloped ones, particularly along the False Bay coast.
Just to make sure that blacks got the message they were not welcome on these beaches, they had huge signs that warned of the dire consequences in store for offenders. Members of the police force were posted on several of these beaches to prevent a black presence.
Apartheid, which was condemned as a crime against humanity, ceased to exist when a democratically elected government was voted into office in 1994. So one would have thought that beach apartheid was gone.
But its legacy still lives on. Stubbornly it refuses to disappear. Apartheid also had other consequences such as the psychology of baasskap and the concomitant one of subservience.
I thought these times were gone and that all South Africans were free at last. That is until my wife, friends and I went to Clifton's Fourth Beach for our annual December sunset picnic on December 23. A picnic like this has become our yearly ritual since our hurly-burly student activist days when we were caught up in the cauldron that was the struggle for freedom.
Clifton's Fourth Beach is one of the top blue flag beaches in the world. It's also where some of the richest people in our country live and play. The majority of them happen to be white and had benefited from acquiring these beachfront properties at bargain basement prices under apartheid.
On that Sunday night the ghost of apartheid returned. Men in uniform ordered us to leave the beach. Although they were security guards working for PPA, they were feigning to be police officers. They were also imposing an unlawful curfew.
It was only after we challenged them to identify themselves that they told us that they were implementing a City of Cape Town by-law that forbade us from using Fourth Beach after 8pm. There is of course no such by-law.
There has been lot of debate around the Fourth Beach issue. Regrettably, if we interrogate the response of the majority of white people, on social media and in their interactions with me, the main view is that this was a minor incident or a mere misunderstanding between a private security company and a group of individuals.
Furthermore, there were claims that the outrage from my friends and I, as well as from various sectors, was unjustified. It was also claimed that there was no racism and that we were creating a storm in a teacup. The response by many whites to the protests and in particular to the slaughtering of a sheep by #FeesMustFall activists only added fuel to the fire.
The City of Cape Town's response that it would lay charges against those who had slaughtered the sheep on the beach also fed the perception that mayor Dan Plato and mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith are only overzealous when they need to act upon an alleged crime perpetrated in historically rich and middle-class white areas, no matter how small the crime. This while black people are the victims of serious and violent crime, gangsterism and drugs. It furthermore adds credence to the argument that the DA cares more about animals than the poor black people of the Cape Flats. Sadly, almost 25 years after the dawn of the new democracy, this response is symptomatic of a much broader problem of just how far apart white and black SA are. It has also exposed the insensitivity, convenient amnesia and inconvenient truth of the racial denialism of our painful past among the majority of white South Africans.
More worrying, though, it seems the City of Cape Town and JP Smith gave tacit approval and support to the security company. The security company is on record as saying it has a verbal agreement with the city.
The city has denied this but has provided no evidence. Also, it seems highly plausible that the city, in alliance with the ratepayers' association, used this body to pay for these services. It was done with the intended purpose to create some distance and plausible deniability in the event that some beachgoers objected and exposed these actions. This is because the city knew full well that these actions are illegal and in violation of the constitution.
Apartheid imprisoned all of us. The way out of the prison is to move into a new democratic country and realise we are one people and that the struggle was to bring freedom to all. President Cyril Ramaphosa's new dawn demands that we put our country first, abandon divisive rhetoric and war talk, move beyond the brutality of apartheid and walk as one people.
- Jacobs is secretary of the ANC Western Cape