Last week we went to the beach at Sodwana. It was probably not the best time to visit, given that it was the day after New Year, a day that traditionally *everyone* heads to the seaside.
But we went anyway, with our lovely Scottish friends Paul & Debbie (read their awesome blog about living in Soshanguve township). As expected, the streams of tourists meant that the queue to get onto the beach parking took more than an hour – it usually takes us a few minutes – but we persevered.
Once through the parking barrier, there were approximately 50 times more people on the shore than I’ve ever seen at Sodwana, making it a different, rather more intense experience than usual.
As we picked our way through the crowd, I felt, well, a little anxious. In South Africa, one feels a little more alert in bustling, busy, crowded scenes, just a little more alert to the risks of theft and crime.
I was just thinking, “Hmm, maybe let’s make our way through this crowd, and sit in a less busy area beyond.” when I noticed something that saddened me. Enraged me. Disappointed me.
All the white people were sat separately from all the black people.
The first 200 metres of beach were filled with local Zulu guys running, laughing, splashing and having fun. Then there was a 50 metre gap, and then all the white families were sat.
In a country where apartheid officially ended 20 years ago, where we celebrate the name “The Rainbow Nation”, the two main races present on the beach chose, voluntarily, to segregate themselves.
My pain is that: I understand why. Every day I get stared at for being the strange white dude in an area that is 99.7% black (not exaggerating, check the census figures). And almost every time I visit Mbazwana, our local town, my family and I are repeatedly asked for money, often by well dressed, clearly-not-impoverished black guys, who see our skin tone, and feel it is appropriate to ask us to redistribute our wealth.
My innate response, on being on a beach surrounded by boisterous black families enjoying themselves, was to try to sit somewhere a little more peaceful, a little safer, and, it turns out, a little more white.
Now, obviously we weren’t going to stand for that: we plonked ourselves in the midst of our fellow fun loving humans, and Joen and Neriah spent an hour being covered with sand by wriggling Zulu children who especially enjoyed playing with bucket and spades.
We had a great time, but the thought stays with me: these social dynamics demonstrate South Africa is still very much living under the spectre of apartheid.
I pray for more people to choose to notice our own inbuilt racial profiling, and to fight against it. To go against the grain. Races are different, no doubt about it. But its unhealthy for us to be separate.