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Yes, the beaches were packed but that was part of the joy

By Jerome September

Going to the beach over the festive period was always something I looked forward to as a child. It was the highlight of a year that was often marked by great struggle. At the beach we could lose ourselves, we could play and stand in awe of the big dam with strong waves that just kept on coming and coming. We could play in the sand and just be. My gran would make ginger beer and all sorts of delicious food. It was a great equaliser for farm kids who could connect with their more middle-class peers from school. We’d share our watermelon and ginger beer without fear that the offering would not live up to the niceties that would otherwise come out of their lunchboxes at school.

I am a 1980s child. That meant we went to coloured beaches like Silwerstroom, Strandfontein and the coloured section of Langebaan. Post-apartheid we ventured to places like Bloubergstrand, Melkbosstrand and even Camps Bay on occasion. For weeks following the annual New Year’s trip we’d talk about what a great time we had. When schools restarted we too could share in the beach stories that the middle-class kids would go on about. This one day at the beach erased the great class divide at our school. It almost reaffirmed our humanity and connection to others. We all felt small and fragile in the awe of the great big dam with the never-ending strong waves. Our parents saved for months to give us this experience.

In the early years the farmer took us to the beach on his truck. Later, taxis or busses were organised for the great excursion. It represented a happy time. For my family, who all worked on the farms (slave-like hard labour for a pittance) it represented a temporary reprieve from the hardships of farm life during apartheid South Africa. On this one day at the beach they’d laugh, they’d dance and they’d be merry. They’d be human. We’d be human amidst the cruelty of apartheid South Africa, and yes, on the designated apartheid beach for coloureds. We’d feel alive and we could go home that night, tired as hell, but somehow rejuvenated to face the cruel world again. (And of course, granny would have her bottles of sea water to take with.)

Cape Town. (AFP / Rodger Bosch)

Fish Hoek, Cape Town. (AFP / Rodger Bosch)

The beach represented in a weird way, a momentary escape from the harsh realities of the world we lived in. Yes the beaches were packed but that was part of the joy, part of the experience, part of the connection to others. Going to the beach represented something special and this continues to be the case for millions of people.

I don’t go to the beach that much anymore. But any trip to the beach, whether long or short, somehow to this day, represents that. A momentary escape. A connection to a bigger power, a reminder of my humanity, a renewal of energy, a healing moment almost. How painful thus that others connect this very human experience to an animalistic one. That is of course possible because some have not yet accepted the human in us all. The human in the other.

Some have become so comfortable in their privilege that they (and not the people who enjoy the beach over New Year’s) have become arrogantly entitled to a public space that they have claimed as theirs only. They do this in the comfort of their continued privilege. A privilege that blinds them to the human experiences of the people they share this country with. The people for who a day or two at the beach represents a powerful connection with the fullness of their own humanity.

Thank God our beaches are open, public spaces. Flock there people. Flock to them in your thousands. Flock there boldly. Flock there daily, if you so wish. Let your humanity reign. Let your freedom reign.

Jerome September holds a master’s degree from the University of Cape Town and works in youth development.

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