Durban - An “offensive” sign at Laguna Beach in Durban, which says “African Bathing Beach”, is a reminder of the segregation of Durban beaches during the apartheid era. It and other historical artefacts serve to acknowledge the road South Africa has travelled.
That was the city’s response after a complaint was made by Martin Meyer, the DA councillor for Morningside, Greyville, Essenwood and Windermere, that the sign should be removed.
Meyer said he saw the sign on an electricity box during a site visit to the city’s beaches last week. He said although he identified any person born in Africa, regardless of their race, as African, the sign must be viewed “in context”.
“The context is obviously the apartheid era when that beach was designated ‘Africans only’.”
Meyer’s views were supported by councillors from all the parties in the eThekwini Municipality.
He said if the city wanted to keep the sign “as an educational or historical artefact” there must be a plaque explaining the context.
“I am not totally against it. It is celebrating the fact that 25 years ago Durban beaches were desegregated. Just leaving it like that won’t serve any historical or educational role. If we are going to use it in that way then we have to add an information board,” he said.
University of Johannesburg sociologist Professor Ashwin Desai disagreed with Meyer and the other councillors, saying he thought keeping the sign there was a “brilliant idea”.
Desai said keeping the sign did not require “some long ponderous explanation”. He said the sign reminded people the apartheid government did not only divide up the land but also sought to separate the ocean itself.
“I disagree that there should be some explanation for the sign. That would kill the effect. In any case, what would it say? ‘Under apartheid, Africans, Indians, coloureds and whites had separate beaches?’ Would it go on to say that the worst beach, with the most dangerous backwash, with no toilet facilities, was set aside for Africans?
“The sign speaks for itself. Sometimes words can drown the effect. My only concern is that German or French tourists might think they are not allowed on the beach as it is for Africans only.”
Municipal spokeswoman Tozi Mthethwa would not comment on whether the sign would be removed.
She said: “Some of these signs are historical artefacts similar to the statues erected during the apartheid regime. These have been allowed to remain to remind us of the road we have travelled as a country”.
NFP councillor Shaik Emam said: “It is unacceptable. It must be removed because we are 21 years into democracy. There are other ways of reminding people of our history.”
He said he understood eThekwini’s reasons, but it was not within the municipality’s jurisdiction to decide on such matters.
“The sign has not been declared a heritage sign or a monument. We should not erase history, but I do not believe this is the way to do it. I don’t think it is the mandate of the municipality to decide. There is a special committee to deal with such things.
“If you have that sign there, in essence you are saying only “Africans” are allowed to swim there. The reason the municipality has given is not justifiable,” he said.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said it was scary because the sign was meant to restrict black South Africans and they did not expect a metro municipality to have such a sign.
Nkosi said the matter had once been discussed in the council.
“We will push for the sign to be removed before the end of the month,” he said.
Nkosi said he would write to the municipal manager and ask that the sign be removed.
ANC councillor Logie Naidoo said they they would not tolerate the display of the sign.
“In the policies of the government and of the municipalities, there is no classification of the beaches. I would like to investigate why the sign was left. We want it removed,” he said.
MF councillor Patrick Pillay said: “It is unbecoming of us as the city to have the sign that was erected during the apartheid era … we are totally against the sign.”
“I find it strange the city is willing to change street names but they are not willing to change this,” said Meyer, adding that he wanted clarity on the policy.