A sea of white faces

CityPress - - News - PADDY HARPER paddy.harper@city­press.co.za

It feels more like 1986 than 2016 as City Press walks into the wa­ter-sport clubs com­plex from the sand off Vetch’s Beach in Dur­ban on Thurs­day af­ter­noon. A sea of hos­tile white faces stare at us as we pass the first of sev­eral Mem­bers Only signs on the Point Yacht Club’s pre­cast wall and make our way through an out­side din­ing area dot­ted with ta­bles and um­brel­las to­wards the restau­rant and bar it shares with the Dur­ban Un­der­sea Club.

There’s not a sin­gle black per­son seated at the ta­bles be­hind the wall, the scene of protests ear­lier this week by the Dur­ban re­gion of the ANC Youth League in re­sponse to re­ports that the clubs were run­ning a whites-only beach on the most south­ern end of the city’s Golden Mile.

A sil­ver-haired el­derly white woman stares at us open­mouthed, try­ing to ask us what we’re do­ing here, but she is not get­ting the words out. Around us, con­ver­sa­tion has stopped as pa­trons stare at us. Whether it’s pho­tog­ra­pher Te­bogo Let­sie’s black face or his big black cam­era that si­lences the crowd, we’ll never know. For a few mo­ments, this beach looks more like Ora­nia By The Sea.

We in­tro­duce our­selves and ask for the man­ager. She points to­wards the restau­rant.

In­side, the only black faces we see are the staff. Bar­tenders; a man­ager; a skip­per and di­ve­mas­ter; wait­rons. They all avoid mak­ing eye con­tact with us. White pa­trons sit around the beau­ti­fully stocked bar (it’s re­splen­dent with green bot­tles) and at the restau­rant ta­bles, where tasty look­ing T-bone steaks are be­ing doled out as the evening turns busy, the cus­tomers are white.

A staff mem­ber (white) tells us the man to talk to is Paul Sch­midt, the gen­eral man­ager of the com­plex, which also houses the Dur­ban Ski Boat Club and the Dur­ban Pad­dleski Club. Sch­midt’s away on hol­i­day, but will be happy to talk to us. We try to get the staffer and a black col­league talk­ing about the al­leged whites-only pol­icy.

“It not ex­actly like that,” is all we get from the white guy. The black col­league says noth­ing.

We head off. Out­side, there are mainly white folks. To the south, there’s a group of Mus­lim beach­go­ers swim­ming in kur­tas, burqas and hi­jab. To the north, a crew of In­dian men are fish­ing. There’s a pair of home­less guys – one black, the other white – on the grass at the end of the beach shar­ing a bot­tle in a pa­per bag out­side the kayak hire shop’s en­trance, where the first of the Mem­bers Only signs sprouts up.

Slightly north of them is the Moyo pier, a kind of in­vis­i­ble bor­der be­tween the south end of Ad­ding­ton Beach and Vetch’s. There’s a very vis­i­ble dif­fer­ence on each side of the pier – whites to the south and blacks to the north.

The clubs hold leases with the Point Devel­op­ment Com­pany, a joint ven­ture be­tween the eThek­wini mu­nic­i­pal­ity and Malaysian de­vel­op­ment com­pany Rock­point, which is re­spon­si­ble for the long-term de­vel­op­ment of the area. The clubs will even­tu­ally be torn down and housed in a wa­ter-sport com­plex, which is part of the long-term plan that will be in place once the de­vel­op­ment, stalled by a lack of funds and le­gal hur­dles, gets go­ing.

Cuane Hall, chair­per­son of the Dur­ban Un­der­sea Club and spokesper­son for the wa­ter-sports clubs, says the claims of whites-only mem­ber­ships and racial seg­re­ga­tion on the beach are “not true”.

“Our mem­ber­ship is based on par­tic­i­pa­tion in one of 11 wa­ter-sport codes, not race, creed or any other fac­tor. No ac­cess is de­nied to any per­son,” he said.

Hall said any­one wish­ing to join the club could ap­ply to join any of the sec­tions, from sail­ing and scuba div­ing to un­der­wa­ter hockey, and they would be vet­ted by the club com­mit­tee. He said more than 40% of the pad­dle ski club mem­bers were “of colour” and there were black mem­bers through­out.

“We don’t record any­body’s race or re­li­gion, as that is an in­va­sion of pri­vacy. If you are a mem­ber, that’s it. This whites-only la­bel is a hoax.”

He said the youth league protest at the club had been a “pub­lic­ity stunt” in re­sponse to “Penny Spar­row’s stupid re­marks” and had not been based on fact.

City com­mu­ni­ca­tions head Tozi Mthethwa said there was no pri­vate or whites-only beach in Dur­ban, and while the city was mon­i­tor­ing the mat­ter and had not re­ceived any for­mal com­plaints, “we will be meet­ing with the clubs’ man­age­ment to dis­cuss the mat­ter fur­ther”.

She said any per­son who ap­plied for mem­ber­ship but was re­jected on racial grounds should lodge a com­plaint with the SA Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion.

PHOTO: TEBOGO LET­SIE

RE­STRIC­TIVE

Vetch’s Beach in Dur­ban is open only to mem­bers

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