The beach eviction: We were confused. All we wanted to do was swim

2019-07-04 22:38


Living Coloured (Because Black and White Were Already Taken) by Yusuf Daniels

Jacana Media

96 pages


Auctioneer and first-time author Yusuf Daniels initially attracted attention on Facebook, where he would share hilarious posts about growing up as a naughty child in a close-knit Cape Flats family. He submitted three of these stories to a publishing house and now he has a book out. In this spicy extract, he recalls a family trip to the beach that resulted in a run-in with a not-so-eloquent policeman. 

I have family members who are fair in complexion, and I have other family members who are darker. You will soon understand why I am explaining this.

It is early on a Sunday morning in Portland, Mitchells Plain. We are going to St James Beach, next to Muizenberg, for the day.

Aunty Fati and Boeta Manie invited me along for the day. They live just a little behind us in Michigan Way and have two sons, Shameeg and Fuad. Now, if you put me next to Shameeg and Fuad, you would think we were three white children. We are three really white coloured kids. Spierwitte kinners.

The cars are packed and, you know mos, it’s plenty of food, umbrellas, blankets, biryani pots and alles. We are about five cars and one bakkie packed to capacity. Now, I’ve never been to St James Beach, and Shameeg and I are already talking about how we gonna dive and swim, and the games we’re gonna play. Excited is an understatement. It takes us about 20 minutes to get there, as Mitchells Plain isn’t far from St James Beach.

As we arrive I see a lovely tidal pool and nice picnic spots to set up camp. Carrying all our stuff from the cars on to the beach takes us longer than the drive. You know mos, we have enough food to feed a little village. That’s just a coloured thing. Done unpacking, and Shameeg and I immediately jump into our Speedos and jackknife into that tidal pool.

Segregated beaches were standard in the Western Cape during apartheid, with prominent signs indicating whites-only spaces. This photograph was taken in 1989. Insets: Author Yusuf Daniels Picture: Gallo Images

We are now only about five minutes into our pool session when we hear the sirens. Three police vans pull up and about seven policemen jump out of their vans, heading straight for us. Now this family I’m with are English-speaking people, but obviously could speak Afrikaans as well. Two of the cops come to Shameeg and me, chasing us out of the water and saying: “Julle moet onmiddellik uit hierdie water klim.” Now, we are 12 and 13 years old, respectively, at the time, and white people in police uniform make us very nervous.

Boeta Manie starts speaking in English to the cops. Now these are all white policemen and all Afrikaans-speaking. And now the main cop wants to show that he can also speak English.

And this comes out of his mouth: “Yous kallit peoples knows thet this here beach is only for de white peoples. Yous Boesmanne hev your own beaches mos dair by Mnandi Beach side.”

That was their favourite word for us. Boesmanne. “Dis beech here is only for blankes.”

My first thoughts are: “This tief didn’t finish school.” Not with that messed-up range of vocabulary. Definitely not top of his aanpassingsklas, the one for slower learners.

Boeta Manie speaks English to him again, and I think he did it just to see this cop suffer.

He tries to explain we’re just here to have fun. Cop wants to hear nothing and says again: “If yous all wan’ to be gearresteer den pleese ignorer me.”

And I’m thinking: “Your English teacher will die if he or she must hear you now, Mr Policeman.”

Why didn’t he take some of the money he got from his white government and invest it in a lekka English-made easy-for-idiots cassette (CDs weren’t out then)? Or the police force should get an interpreter for all their police units, because this ou just sounded superkak. It was like he spoke a foreign language.

I’m thinking: “Mr Policeman, but myself, Shameeg and Fuad are then whiter than all seven of you cops and some of you look more like Boesmanne than us.” Some of them have that Hansie Cronje look. You’re not sure if they are white or coloured. May Hansie rest in peace.

Author Yusuf Daniels Picture: Supplied

What’s up with this white thing? We were confused and all we wanted to do was swim. They threatened us with arrest and we had no choice but to leave. Forcefully removed from St James Beach with two wet children, we had to carry all that stuff back to the cars. We went to Strandfontein Beach and had to go through all the unpacking again. We ended up swimming in the ocean and still had lotsa fun, like only we could.

I could see that Boeta Manie was sad that we had to leave. But this is what we had to live with back in the day as coloured and black people. It was dictated to us where we could go to. We had to sit in the back of the bus. We had to sit in the third-class carriage on the train. We couldn’t play in certain parks. That moment, that day, somehow never left me.

As kids, we just wanted to have fun and didn’t really take note of all the political crap. But I could see on all the adults’ faces that they were hurt and disgusted.

To all my white friends, I still love y’all and I’m not gonna blame yous for all your uncles’ crap.

Whenever I now go to St James pool I make a wee in that pool and say softly in my head: “Mr Policeman, watch me now. Jou ma se…”

True story.

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November 10 2019