Fresh Wounds: Incident at Beach is Newest Example of Strained Race Relations in South Africa

Clifton 4th Beach, in Cape Town. Warren Rohner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Clifton 4th Beach, in Cape Town. Warren Rohner. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Recently a group of protesters took to the shores of the Clifton 4th beach, one of the more popular beaches in Cape Town, to complain about what they perceived to be racial profiling at the hands of a local security firm. Professional Protection Alternatives, or PPA, was apparently hired by local residents to clear out all black visitors to the beach shortly before Christmas of last year. The security company responded to these allegations, claiming that they were simply trying to protect nearby residents from crime. The incident has stirred up tensions in Cape Town that still linger from South Africa’s recent history with Apartheid.

Apartheid, which means “separateness” or “apartness” in Afrikaans, was a system of institutionalized racism that pervaded in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s. Also known as “White Minority Rule,” it was primarily used to ensure the dominion of white South Africans over their black counterparts. Policies included the segregation of parks, beaches, and other public places. The system was dismantled by activists like former president Nelson Mandela but the visitors who were removed from the beach felt that the actions of PPA were reminiscent of the Cape Town of old. Dan Plato, the current mayor of Cape Town, spoke publicly about the incident, claiming that PPA had no right to remove anyone from the beach, but also defended the security firm, stating that the removals were not racially motivated. Meanwhile, Patricia de Lille, the former mayor of Cape Town, joined in the protests, encouraging all who were removed from the beach to press charges against PPA. De Lille stated that actions of the firm went against “hard-won constitutional rights.” In a country with such a recent history of racial conflict, it doesn't take much to re-open old wounds.

Former president Nelson Mandela was instrumental in the ending of Apartheid. South Africa The Good News / . CC BY 2.0.

Former president Nelson Mandela was instrumental in the ending of Apartheid. South Africa The Good News / CC BY 2.0.

The incident at Clifton is the latest in a series of racial altercations that have occurred in South Africa. In 2016, real estate agent Penny Sparrow described black South Africans as “uneducated monkeys” in a Facebook post. Sparrow was charged with Crimen Injuria, the willful impairment of another person’s dignity. At her hearing, Sparrow said that she would “strive to be a better citizen, respecting others and working toward making our country a better place.” In August of 2018, Johannesburg businessman Adam Catzavelos caused an uproar on social media when he posted a video of himself at a beach in Greece and expressed his relief that there were no black people there. Catzavelos’ family promptly fired him from their food manufacturing company and expressed outrage over his comments before going into hiding to avoid potential backlash. Despite South Africa’s recent steps toward tolerance, racism is still an overarching issue that hinders relations between the many ethnicities that make the country their home.

Protesters at the Clifton 4th beach marched, chanted, and even sacrificed a sheep in their demonstrations against racism in Cape Town. They claimed the guards employed by PPA were specifically briefed to keep blacks from other townships from patronizing the beach, claims which have yet to be substantiated. Their protests have drawn the support of the Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF, an organization devoted to humanitarian issues in South Africa. Other organizations, such as the Black Land First group have also voiced their support for the protesters on Clifton beach, though their views are considered by many to be more radical from those of the EFF. Meanwhile, some citizens of Cape Town plan to press animal cruelty charges against the protesters for slaying the sheep. These events are a prime example of how quickly recently formed ties can unravel.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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