Defend Truth


The alienation of people by private institutions such as Kalk Bay’s Brass Bell must end


Michael Brown is a PhD candidate in marine biology at the University of the Western Cape.

The famous Brass Bell restaurant in Kalk Bay has had its image repeatedly tarnished by its attempts to limit access to paying customers – despite the restaurant’s precincts incorporating public open space, including three tidal pools.

If you grew up in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, memories of your youth are probably dotted with countless good times spent at Kalk Bay’s famous Brass Bell. From family lunches, drinks with mates on a Friday night or live music and events. The place holds a fond place in many people’s hearts.

If you’re white, that is.

If you’re coloured or black — particularly if you’re coloured or black and fall within a lower income bracket — your experiences of this Kalk Bay eatery are likely to be very different. You might have had your access to the “public” swimming pools barred by lock and key, or shared a video of Brass Bell security telling kids playing at the pool to move away from the restaurant. Worst of all, you might have directly experienced the violation of your precious holiday-time family traditions – thanks to blocked beach access – in the name of profit and greed.

Spatial politics

Anybody who has visited the Brass Bell recently will have noted the sprawling complex of building extensions that now form part of this establishment. As a marine biologist, I found it puzzling that the City of Cape Town would allow these extensions on public beach space. As person with at least half-an-ounce of social consciousness, I found it massively troubling.

Spatial politics was an intrinsic part of apartheid planning and oppression. It was so effective that it is still blindingly obvious and problematic today.

I have been lucky enough to be involved in projects uplifting previously disadvantaged communities through water activities. One of the biggest challenges is the loss of a sense of ownership and comfort with the ocean. Many of these communities would have previously had lives that were intrinsically intertwined with the sea. And now we’re working to rebuild that rightful relationship between people and ocean. Why, then, is the alienation of people by private institutions such as the Brass Bell allowed to continue?

Tony White, the owner of the Brass Bell, may claim outrage or shock at this piece, but these accusations have been levelled many times. Here are the facts:

  • In 2012, the Brass Bell made a commitment that, despite the fact that they had extended their decks right up to the municipal tidal pool and had been accused of limiting access to locals, they would ensure complete and free use and access to anybody using the tidal pools. This, after an 18-month row between Prasa, Brass Bell, the City and Kalk Bay residents.
  • In 2013, the Brass Bell and, by extension, the owner White, were accused of turning scores of black beachgoers away from the municipal tidal pools by locking the gate along the footpath, leading to the DA calling for an investigation. White’s reasoning? “Safety and security.”
  • In 2014, on the Day of Goodwill, the Brass Bell and White were again accused of barring access to (majority coloured) users of the tidal pools, who also complained about having to “run the gauntlet” of security personnel and only being able to access the pool through the Brass Bell outdoor section. White’s claim was that he was doing the community a service by keeping the pools secure and clean.
  • In 2017, the Brass Bell was again accused of locking locals out of the public toilets and tidal pools next to the Brass Bell. Although law enforcement later opened up the gate, under the instruction that the gate was solely under the control of the Kalk Bay harbourmaster, the locked-out residents claimed that they were first told to ask the Brass Bell for the key. This time, White was more adamant in his statements, claiming that it was amazing that a gate being locked for two hours could cause front-page news, that just down the road people were drowning and that by locking the gate and controlling access, there were “almost no incidents”.
  • In 2022, the Brass Bell has once again been thrust into the limelight by again infringing on the public’s access. The City of Cape Town has ordered a halt to the construction of a new deck on the only bit of public beach still available.
  • The construction is within 100m of the high-water mark, which means that it requires authorisation in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema). White claims that he was simply trying to create a place for people to sunbathe without getting covered in sea sand, and that he was unaware that he needed approval. White has been informed that should the public be restricted from accessing the water, he will be served with a legal notice in accordance with 2020 coastal bylaws.

Although some may argue that these are the actions of the Brass Bell and its management, and not a reflection on the owner himself, at every stage it is White who acts as the spokesperson, it is White to whom the employees refer journalists to for statements; and White who is involved in the legal battles.

More to the point, as the owner of the establishment, it is White’s responsibility to address these problems. It would appear that he is consistently unrepentant in his actions. He has come under fire for the restriction of access and allegedly racist actions in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017 and in 2021 despite a lack of news reports. Now, again, in 2022. 

For somebody who claims to have been involved in improving the community for the past 50-or-so years, he has shown severe antagonism to local communities and an utter disregard for ongoing complaints. White seemingly becomes more and more adamant — contrary to the numerous complaints and news stories — that he is making things better, cleaner, safer. At no point has White seemingly acknowledged any wrongdoing to the community.

The question now is who is going to hold him, and the establishment, accountable? In 2022, it is inconceivable that this is still a fight we need to have. DM


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