In light of recent headline grabbing racist comments, Andiswa Makanda writes an open letter to Penny Sparrow and company.
Dear Penny Sparrow, Justin van Vuuren and other racist South Africans who want to reserve our beaches for whites only.
I read all your posts with a heavy heart and great sadness. You are privileged yet your ignorance makes you poor.
While I do not condone any form of litter and advocate for clean public spaces, your posts only seem to perpetuate negative stereotypes and ideologies about black people.
Initially my instinct was to ignore your posts because I felt your views and attitudes towards these so-called animals were not worth entertaining or an audience on my part.
But the beach conundrum is a very symbolic microcosm of the continuing struggle of black people and racial politics worth paying attention to.
Seeing black animals as those who dirty your beaches is not only a simplistic, shallow observation of your problem, but a reification of the harsh socio-economic and structural inequality that underpins the political economy of a simple discursive activity – going to the beach.
I choose to not include myself in “them” as my privilege excludes me from the realities in which most black beach-goers you complain of find themselves, for reasons documented below. But, in principle, I identify myself with those monkeys.
There are a few things I need you to be mindful of before you lay the blame of all the world’s problems on blacks.
While the filth and dirt was the most obvious thing to use as a tool for disciplinary power and policing the black body in public spaces, let me tell you something about these animals and monkeys that you were not aware of:
For many, going to the beach is a luxury, a privilege. It is the next best thing that God has given us; for many, its mystic, ineffable beauty makes the whole experience surreal.
Going to the beach is on top of many bucket lists. Some of these animals are seeing the beach for the first time. Loved ones bring home seawater in two litre Coke bottles, and that is as close as possible one gets to taste the salty water.
Bet you did not know that some run for their lives when the waves come in their direction. Even grown men run because there have been many tales of people drowning.
Going to the beach during the festive season is the promise families hold on to as their loved ones are never home until Christmas, slaving away in mines, offices and in our kitchens.
Some of these animals/ monkeys cannot wait for that Christmas bonus to take their loved ones to the beach. It is the only time they can get to do something special for their families and make up for all that lost time.
Going to the beach is an incentive for the animals’ children to behave, a reward for performing well in their studies.
My late grandfather was named after the Eastern Cape beach, Coffee Bay. We grew up calling him not Tat’ omkhulu (grandfather), but Coff’ Bay. You know why? Because he was one of the few in his community who owned a van and it became tradition that on New Year’s Day he would take people around his community to Coffee Bay.
For many years the beach has been socially inaccessible.
Remember the “Nie Blanke” notices on sections of apart-heid beaches?
Post democracy, many blacks are still socially and structurally excluded from enjoying the beach and reserve the big days of the calendar, Christmas and New Years, as important dates for going to the beach.
Let me tell you something else you did not know about these animals, which your privileged positions have blinded you to.
You would have noticed that the black animals/monkeys whom you refer to swim in their underwear – tights, bras, or even fully clothed.
It’s not that they are savages, primitive or backward. It is because they do not possess that which you refer to as swimwear. Some of them have no idea where to find one, and for some, swimwear is a luxury item.
It has already cost them an arm and a leg to get to the beach and to make sure they enjoy a decent meal after a swim.
For some, a loaf of white bread and Fanta will do, and they can only catch the whiff of air filled with the smell of braaied meat and other aromas.
Even a braai is a luxury.
Let me tell you something about your privilege … your privilege excludes you from the humiliation of packing your belongings in Checkers, Pick n Pay and Spar plastic bags when making your way to the beach.
These animals do not possess any fancy bags, picnic baskets, or beach umbrellas. Your privilege saves you from the hardship of having to sleep on the beaches for various reasons.
Holiday accommodation is expensive. Many of the animals are left stranded on these beaches. These animals huddle together with their little ones on the beaches, waiting for the next day to catch a taxi home.
To this day, municipalities have yet to make provision for the stranded souls, but year after year, it is the situation poor black people find themselves in.
Now to the burning issue on your lips: filth. I am not sure whether I have ever encountered a situation where after a huge gathering of people, be it in parks, stadiums or auditoriums, a place was left spotlessly clean after an event.
Even the cinema after a movie is left filthy, with pop-corn, spilled slush puppy and sweet wraps littered everywhere.
And those animals/monkeys you refer to as barbarians were in those cinema houses only to clean up the mess.
For this and the bias shown, your views are therefore racist.
We are tired of explaining why certain views are racist and exhausted by whitesplaining. Filth is a human phenomenon that belongs to no single group of individuals.
It has no colour, no race, no tribe, and no class. We are all guilty of contributing to litter, including smokers who flick their cigarettes out their car windows.
I bet your office parks are littered with cigarette stompies. So why are you picking on these “cute, cuddly monkeys”?
Your frustrations are directed at the wrong people. You should be laying blame on the lack of scenario planning. The beach towns know that at certain periods of the year there is an influx of tourists.
Yes, those animals, too, are tourists. But cities year after year do not have the capacity to deal with the influx, which is why you will find litter on your beaches, which is why you will find animals rinsing off seawater from their bodies in open spaces and urinating in public.
There are not enough ablution facilities, not enough bins and cleaning efforts by cities are inadequate. There is no affordable accommodation – even a tent site will do. And the numbers will continue to grow as more and more black people can afford to spend that one day at the beach.
Hotel moguls will run out of space in which to build their hotels because they will not keep up with the demand as more blacks slowly progress.
Black people must continue accessing beaches. Beaches do not belong to a certain race or class. It is enough that education and economic activities remain inaccessible for the majority of black people.
We cannot take away the beach from them. And citizens must remain active and call out racist views.
Corporate South Africa must continue taking action. Twitter has been a tool of activism. Most probably there will come a time when racists will no longer publicly utter racism, but racist views will continue in private spaces.
So how does one reverse years of socialisation of white superiority complexes and white privilege that entitles you to spew racist utterances?
This should be our next big project as we strive for a non-racial society.
* Makanda is a producer at TalkRadio 702 and 567 CapeTalk. She writes in her personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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