The New South Africa

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.

Photo from SA beach in 1976

Photo from an SA beach in 1976

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.

kids on beach

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.

10 responses

  1. That is very sad, and I’m glad you went against the tide. I guess it will take many generations to undo segregation in people’s minds, even if by law it has already ended. On another note – Paul and Debbie are awesome 🙂

  2. As a South African this is an issue I am used to hearing about. I am completely against deliberate racial segregation and have at times been the one to make an effort to leave the ‘white crowd’ to talk to the ‘black crowd’, but I do feel strongly that it is not always necessarily a negative thing when races are separated coincidentally.

    By this I mean that the ‘seperation’ may be due to many reasons other than race. Cultural diversity is something that South Africa has abundantly and should be celebrated. Sometimes people sit together or away from each other due to things like the language that is being spoken, loud music being played from a cellphone, having similar topics of interest in conversation and many others. For example I have attended department of health meetings where some varsity friends from other hospitals have been present. Naturally I sit with my friends. The friends attending the meeting happen to be the same race as I am, but I am not sitting with them for that reason. If my black friends from varsity were there I would have sat with them too, they just chose a different province time work in. Also at these meetings often groups of people will be speaking siSwati, Zulu or one of South Africa’s many languages, naturally, although I try to learn another language, I will not sit where I cannot partake in conversation. This does not only apply to ‘African’ languages. As an English speaker I will still gravitate towards English speakers over Afrikaans-speaking white people even though I understand Afrikaans.

    To be clear, I am not saying that segregation is a good thing, but merely it is not always deliberate. I am also fully aware that there are people from all races who are still racist and will deliberately separate themselves from others, but I feel one needs to be careful when assuming separation is based on race and is a relic of apartheid.

    • Hi Deborah, didn’t see this response earlier.

      Yes, I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. That said, its not like all the people were turning up at the beach to chat with friends – many of them would have been separate family groups, not aiming to be together. I’m sure most of the reason was cultural: it was noisier and busier on our end of the beach – but there must be something relating to South Africa’s history there, because you would never see separation like that on a UK beach.

      Whether deliberate or not, the barriers are there. I feel we should all make a concerted effort to cross the cultural barriers, to choose to sit with the Afrikaaners (pretty sure you can describe Afrikaans as an “African” language lol), with the Zulus, with the Xhosa: there are too many white people in the country with no black people they can truly call friends, and too many black guys with no white friends. I think we risk missing out on a lot.

      • Hi Chris

        I totally agree. Culture is definitely not an excuse to be lazy. The aim should always be to cross the cultural divide and be genuine friends. We definitely have a lot to learn from each other. I so appreciated learning more about other cultures while in Tonga.

    • Until a few weeks ago, Joen didn’t even know. We tried to have a low key conversation with him about it, and now he regularly tells people “I’m not black!” and smiles at them. Not quite what we were aiming for…

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us and what God is teaching you. We (Tolu and I) are so inspired that people can actually live this out! It is possible by God’s Holy Spirit. What an encouragement. Love Ayo

  4. hello dr chris,i was left in tears when i saw your pics with the kids in africa,seeing the joy…on everyones faces,letting everyone know that no one is born rascist and our children should take everyone as human irrespective of color,ohh mr chris God bless u 4 making my day,pple like you should only exist in this world.

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