The South African Sunday Times has done a “snap survey” and found that “a quarter of a century after beach apartheid was scrapped, South Africa’s bathing spots are still mainly segregated”. The newspaper says that “most lovers still flock to beaches “assigned” to them during apartheid, when the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act decreed separate beaches for “whites” and “nonwhites”.
Self-segregation has now become the norm and whites, especially, carefully select their swimming spots so as to avoid other races. “I just don’t enjoy it when there are blacks or coloureds around,” said one beachgoer in Cape Town. “Too much noise, no manners, and even hygiene issues.”
Property values in the Strand, on the outskirts of Cape Town, have dropped because the beach is now perceived as a “coloured” (mixed-race) beach while it was previously frequently mainly by white Afrikaners.
In Cape Town, while Clifton’s trendy Clifton 3rd and 4th beaches remain largely white, beaches at Camps Bay, Muizenberg and Noordhoek are “well integrated”, according to the Sunday Times.
This picture was captioned with the hashtag #KryDieDoom (get the Doom), referring to the insecticide.
Comments under this photograph included Annemarie Booysen’s “Ek wens ek was ‘n haai! [I wish I were a shark].”
“Waar is ‘n tsunami as jy hom nodig het? [Where is a tsunami when you need it?]…. Lol,” wrote Janine Crous.
However, not all beachgoers believe South Africa is still mired in the past. Visits to several top beaches revealed a variety of opinions on the subject.
At Umhlanga Rocks north of Durban, Shelley Mzobe said people on the beach were “nicely mixed”.
“All the people are here, black, white, Indian and coloured. There are no problems. We are all having fun.”
A Phoenix resident on North Beach said: “You see different colours of people here. Fifty years ago, this wasn’t the case. We’ve come a long way.”
But while people of various race groups walked the promenade, a sun lover from Cato Manor said he preferred to visit beaches further out where there were fewer people. “If we go to the beach it’s mainly in Umhlanga or La Mercy because it’s cleaner. I don’t see much of a mix here [central Durban]. It feels very one-sided being here now. In the past it was the whites who came here, now it’s the blacks. We don’t fit in.”
At Clifton, one of the few black people soaking up the sun was Vusi Mkhatshwa from Mpumalanga. He said he chose Clifton because “it’s safe, there are no sharks and it’s not that busy”.
Conny Maphagela from Johannesburg was also happy with the beach, but said that she was the only black person.
“I’ve been to Dolphin beach at Blouberg [Table View]. I like it here. It’s mainly white, mainly men. But I don’t have a problem with it.”
Ebrahim Essop from Johannesburg said the beach was “a nice place to relax”, but there was not much diversity.
“I look around, and I’m the only person who looks like me. Durban is more mixed,” he said.
Whites also complain about lifeguards, where affirmative-action has seen to it that most lifeguards are now black. “They just sit around and do nothing. It isn’t like in the old days when lifeguards were constantly on the look-out for swimmers that might get into trouble, or who issued shark warnings when necessary,” said one Durbanite who “would not be caught dead going to the main beaches”.
Jim Scown, a lifeguard from the UK, who has been in Cape Town for four weeks, said the lack of diversity could be for economic reasons. “There are wealthy people here. And you’ve got the expensive property around. Most people here are tourists,” he said.
On the other side of the city, at Monwabisi beach on False Bay, Khayelitsha mother of three Sindi Pakade said she loved visiting the beach.
“It’s safe. There’s the pool for the kids. And it’s close by. Last week, I was in Muizenberg and there was no parking,” she said.
Khaya Nyenga said he chose Monwabisi for its convenience – it was closer to his home and had more parking.
But Monwabisi was mainly black, and he preferred the diversity at other beaches.
“In Strand there’s a big mix. That’s why I like it. You see different people. For me, that’s good.”
Nathi Sotsepo and friend Ruza Sasanti said they were happy with the diversity at Monwabisi.
“There are more blacks than coloureds. There’s no problem for us. It’s between the whites and the blacks that there’s a problem,” she said.
The City of Cape Town’s director of sports, recreation and amenities, Gert Bam, said the city was committed to connecting communities through a reliable, affordable and safe public transport system.
“Cape Town is home to over 240km of coastline, which means that most communities are situated in close proximity to beaches. However, it is important to consider the relative proximity to poorer communities of those beaches that boast amenities and enhanced service provision, such as lifesaving services,” Bam said.
Lifeguards were deployed at sites with the most beach users. “The city relies on aerial photography to gain a sense of which beaches are most popular and on which days,” Bam said.
South African Institute of Race Relations spokeswoman Mienke Steytler blamed continued segregation on apartheid spatial planning.
“When cities were developed back in the day when all these [apartheid] laws were in place, they were developed specifically to separate people,” she said.
“We are now sitting with the consequences.”