Opinionista Marianne Thamm 30 December 2018

Clifton 4th beach: of slaughtered sheep, drowned slaves and collective rituals

Imagine, if you could, on that day in December 2018 when a sheep was slaughtered on Clifton's pristine 4th beach to exorcise “the demon of racism” that white South Africans had volunteered in their droves to join in (well at least those who enjoy a little sizzling lamb chop on the braai)? We all need a good exorcism. Might as well do it collectively.

It was a gross provocation that had sparked the outrage, anger and the pushback.

A private Cape Town security company, Professional Protection Alternatives, PPA, had, flouting the laws of the country, attempted to close off a public beach after sunset which is exactly when the small strip of soft, gleaming shore at Clifton 4th beach is at its most beguiling.

Clifton 4th beach is currently regarded as one of the world’s top ten beaches. Blue Flag and all. It was a unilateral and illegal action that could not and cannot remain unchallenged.

PPA is owned by Alwyn Landman who is connected to “controversial” Cape Town businessman Mark Lifman. Lifman was a supporter of former Western Cape ANC Chair, Marius Fransman, and was also a VIP guest at President Jacob Zuma’s 72nd birthday celebrations at Vygieskraal in the Western Cape in 2014.

Lifman is also one of several “businessmen” being investigated by SARS and is an associate of Sexy Boys gang leader Jerome “Donkie” Booysen. Back in 2014, Lifman had appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on charges of running unregistered specialised protection services.

Landman denied to Die Burger specialist journalist, Maygene de Wee, on 29 December that he was in any way connected to Lifman. Lifman declined to comment on the relationship. Back in 2012, both men had been linked to security at the exclusive Shimmy’s Beach Bar.

Who exactly it was that had summoned PPA to Clifton 4th beach and why remains a matter of dispute.

PPA claims it had an “unwritten agreement” with the City of Cape Town. The City has denied this, of course. PPA has since been charged with intimidation by the Western Cape ANC.

Accusations of “growing criminality” on Clifton and the alleged attempted sexual assault of two teenagers have not been confirmed or proved. Either way, even if there had been a report of a crime, it is not PPA’s place to deal with it.

Regardless of how PPA found themselves on the beach that evening, it was their action that triggered the series of events that followed.

The grand irony, of course, is that as it so happened, current ANC Western Cape Secretary-General, Faiez Jacobs, and his friends and family were enjoying their annual twilight picnic on the beach on Sunday 23 December 2018 when PPA struck.

Along with Jacobs were several seasoned Western Cape anti-apartheid activists from the 1980s, including former country director of Action Aid, Fatima Shabodien. It was Shabodien who later helped organise a family twilight picnic #Godsbeachesforallgodspeople protest which took place peacefully on Saturday 29 December.

The day before, on 28 December, another protest, #ReclaimClifton, was co-ordinated by the #FeesMustFall activist Chumani Maxwele. That day a sheep was ritually slaughtered on the beach while angry animal anti-cruelty activists attempted to stop the sacrifice.

Only 30 years ago – up until 1989 in fact – neither Jacobs, his family or the organisers of #Reclaim Clifton would have been allowed on Clifton 4th beach never mind slaughter an animal. No black persons, including those classified as coloured or Indian, were permitted on most of the Western Cape’s best beaches. The history books are there, read them.

Clifton 4th beach does not exist in a vacuum.

This shoreline is not a tabula rasa.

Long before tanned and toned rich white people (both South Africans and tourists who soaked up Apartheid South Africa’s privileged ambience) exclusively claimed the space for decades, two hundred black bodies washed up on the sugar-white shores.

It was 1794 when the São José Paquete Africa, a Portuguese slaver carrying 400 people from Mozambique to Brazil, ran aground off Clifton in the early hours of the morning, 2 am to be exact, on 27 December.

Two hundred slaves drowned, their bodies tumbling in the surf towards the shore and the beach. The surviving 200 were sold off in Cape Town the following day.

The wreck of the São José had originally been misidentified in the 1980s as a Dutch merchant ship. But it was not. The São José is the first and only wreck of a working slave ship which had sank in transit with its “human cargo” aboard. The wreck was confirmed in 2015 by the Smithsonian’s African History and South Africa’s Iziko Museums.

The vessel had set sail from Lisbon on 27 April 1794, captained by Manuel João Pereira. Pereira’s voyage was the first long-distance attempt from Portugal to Mozambique and on to Maranhão in the northeast of its colony, Brazil.

Earlier in the month, so says Wikipedia, the São José docked in the Island of Mozambique where “the ship’s crew loaded their human cargo and got underway. The enslaved men, women and children were likely from the interior of Mozambique. Their travel in the slave hold to Maranhão, Brazil, was set to take some four months. The journey lasted only a few weeks.”

Men, women and children. 200.

Today Clifton 4th beach is a sun-kissed paradise for moneyed tourists, designer drenched middle-classes and many of the city’s ordinary citizens of all colours and classes who have the means to get to this little gleaming cove where the water laps up to the armpit of some of the most expensive real estate in the province.

Ice cream, cool drink and umbrella vendors crunching through the fine sand in the heat can be heard calling out across the beach as they ply their trade.

There is a concrete wall that separates the multi-million Rand “Clifton bungalows” (as locals like to call them) from the beach itself. Unadorned, the wall is nondescript, grey. In the mid-1980s, when the beach was still reserved for whites only, a bit of graffiti suddenly appeared on the wall.

No fat dudes” it read in huge red strokes applied with a spray can.

That was the ethos then of Clifton 4th beach where the white Peter Stuyvesant generation tanned, swam and played bat and ball in the sun, seemingly oblivious of the events in the rest of the country.

And PPA brought all of this home in December 2018.

Those who have protested PPA’s action and lodged criminal charges have been accused of political point scoring. But the question is then how else then would the actions of PPA have come to light and be stopped?

Across the world, the rich, including political and business elites, are securing themselves with private militias and security. The EFF leadership, in fact, has a team of white “bodyguards”, as did the Gupta family. It’s a niche market with an oversupply of burly white dudes.

The Clifton beach protests were vital in pushing back against the erosion of public freedoms. In Cape Town, the lower-middle and working classes have already been squeezed to the periphery of the city by Monopoly Money property prices.

The intention of the #ReclaimClifton and the slaughtering of the sheep was “to exorcise the demon of racism” and to take back a public space for all Capetonians.

Imagine how different the event could have been had white South Africans requested to be part of it, had we handled it with tenderness and an understanding of the history and pain of this country?

Imagine how the moribund narrative could have been disrupted?

There are still many demons that haunt us and we could do with a little collective ritual exorcising of ghosts on a lovely hot, summer’s afternoon. We could do also with a little communing with all the ancestors – first peoples, African, slave, white, Indian – all the souls who have shaped us.

This is one of the gifts of a cosmic worldview still practiced across the globe and here in South Africa. Acts of devotion and remembrance connect us to our past. We all do it, one way or another. Some of us slaughter animals, some of us light candles, some of us put up benches in parks.

Some of us cultivate bonsais.

Like Japanese bonsai master, Chiako Yamamoto, regarded as the world’s first bonsai sensei. Yamamoto devotedly tends to a 100-year-old tree planted by her grandfather.

The tree has outlived three emperors and will outlive Yamamoto.

Yamamoto’s grandfather’s tree carries time and memories as it lives on.

Just like the beaches of South Africa. DM

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