Apartheid and human solidarity

Liam Neame
Surfpolitik

With the passing of anti-Apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, it is worth thinking about some of ways in which the surfing world has been entangled in apartheid.

surfing-a-warzone.jpgSara Blecher’s film Otelo Burning (2011) is a Zulu language film set in 1989 at the height of the anti-apartheid campaign. It looks at three young fellas who take up surfing on beaches of South Africa, finding escape from their lives in the swell. They learn to surf on whites only beaches, and in this lies just part of the profound violence of apartheid. Blecher (if awkwardly at times) deals in issues of lateral violence and, as with the play Othello, the issues that arise in the dangers of jealousy. The white South Africans themselves become a picture of violence: they are distant from the characters, and distant from the audience. They are vague figures of undignified power and privilege.

It is a coming of age flick that can at times be heavy handed. However, it is significant that this is the only fictional film that has dealt with racism amongst surfers, in a school of surf films that has always prioritised the stories of white people.yvylvollemoihbtpyf2pw.jpg

Nic Hofmeyr’s Taking Back the Waves (2007) looks at Cass Collier, whose family were categorised as ‘coloured’ by the apartheid regime. Unable to compete at home on apartheid beaches, Cass left South Africa (as did his father before him) to compete internationally. At one point Cass discusses competing at Bondi with some big names for the first time. As he had no competition experience, they thrashed him. So far from the segregated beaches at home, the effects of apartheid weighed heavy on the story. The doco tells how his father would be constantly arrested for teaching him to surf on segregated beaches. These are simple and violent moments in the film.

Both Hofmeyr and Blecher’s films demonstrate the kinds of day-to-day resistance to apartheid. We can see this in the small acts of resistance taking place in defiance of both the law and the white surfing community. Surfing, we see, is racialised at every turn by apartheid.

What we see in these films is that surfing is more than private exhilaration and quiet moments alone, but (often despite ourselves) involves other relationships: to power, to privilege, and to capital. These films are just small examples of the ways in which surfing is a political act, bound up and entangled in the social world in which it is found.

african-signboard-630.jpgIn 1985 in response to the call for a sporting boycott of Apartheid South Africa, Tom Carroll signalled his boycott of South African surfing. Having just landed his second World Championship title, he announced on Bells Beach that this was a ‘basic humanitarian stand’ and that he would boycott South Africa until ‘all black surfers are allowed on all South African beaches’. Carroll’s boycott was a seminal moment in Australian surfing’s stance against apartheid.

As far as the sporting boycott of South Africa goes, surfing, (despite significant occurrences), never really came to the party. In 1964 the International Olympic Committee withdrew its invitation to South Africa, formerly banning the country in 1970. FIFA suspended South Africa from 1963. The International Cricket Council banned South Africa in 1970. The Association of Surfing Professionals never backed down on touring South Africa, returning there until apartheid’s dying days.

As early as 1971, mass demonstrations in Australia were being held against apartheid policies in South Africa and in support of sporting boycotts. During the 1971, the Springbok rugby tour protests were so successful that a state of emergency was declared in Queensland and an estimated 700 people were arrested around the country.

To the exasperation of Koori activists at the time, this also meant that racism was seen by those non-Indigenous anti-apartheid activists as being something that happened elsewhere.Gary Foley, a member of the Redfern Black Caucus at the time has written:

aboriginal-protest.jpg“Those protests brought the Australian anti-racist movement face to face with Koori activists who were demonstrating in support of their black South African bothers and sisters. These encounters led to the Kooris posing the question, 'What were these anti-racist Australians doing about racism in their own back-yard?' White Australian "anti-racists" were confronted with the proposition that perhaps they were being racist themselves in being blind to the state of racial oppression in this country.”

In many ways, this was a turning point in the Land Rights movement.

There was plenty of opposition to the boycott within South Africa, including among those who opposed apartheid. It wasn’t until 1992 that the white South African Surfing Association (SASA) began talks with the non-racially designated South African Surfing Union (SASU) to form a unified body. Shafiq Morton describes how the non-discriminatory SASU were forced to have its competition on “non-white” beaches, imploring his memory: “I must remember the ‘Battle of the Bay of Plenty’ when arrogant (white) non-contestants disrupted the SASU’s contest in the 1980s. When SASU retaliated and forcibly cleared the water, as was its right, the police were called in”.

Cass Collier has said, reflecting in a time after the defeat of apartheid, that “South African Surfers mustn’t try to cling to their past privileges; they can’t be blind to what is around them. The lack of unity in our own surfing is reflective of our society. It comes from being wealthy, educated, and privileged. A generous and loving attitude is needed from those who can afford to give.”

In a lecture 2008 Mandela told his audience that “As the years progress one increasingly realises the importance of friendship and human solidarity. And if a 90-year-old may offer some unsolicited advice on this occasion, it would be that you, irrespective of your age, should place human solidarity, the concern for the other, at the centre of the values by which you live.”

As conservatives who propped up the South African regime seek to reconfigure history and render Mandela harmless, how might surfers today think about this human solidarity? How might it respond to situations of apartheid today? How might it respond to the ongoing perception of surfing as a ‘white’ sport? Or the proliferation of ‘white’ faces in in surf magazines and surf shops? Or the ways in which it continues to be closely associated with the Cronulla riots? Or the ways in which women are treated as novelties to gawk at? How might surfing respond to calls by the West Papuan independence campaign for a tourist boycott of Indonesia? The ongoing demonization of asylum seekers at sea? Or the calls by Indigenous people for rights to sea-country?

The imperative for “human solidarity” and concern for the other remains strong, and surfers remain buffeted by the social world we are a part of. //LIAM NEAME

Comments

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Monday, 9 Dec 2013 at 11:27am

Nice article by Matt Warshaw here too.

grazza's picture
grazza's picture
grazza Monday, 9 Dec 2013 at 1:35pm

See, this is why I like Swellnet...

tonka's picture
tonka's picture
tonka Tuesday, 10 Dec 2013 at 12:58pm

"How might surfing respond to calls by the West Papuan independence campaign for a tourist boycott of Indonesia?"

It'd be great if surfing had a contemporary 'Tom Carroll' who'd oppose travel to, or competing in, Indonesia on the basis of Indonesian's apartheid policies towards the West Papuan people. Here is a brutal repression of a people practically on our doorstep. If that does not constitute an imperative for 'human solidarity', in our time and place, then I'm not sure what would.

Great article, by the way.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 10 Dec 2013 at 2:56pm

Try being Palestinian and getting a wave or even setting foot on Hilton or Bat Galim beaches in Israel.

This stuff goes on all over the world to this day.

I read something once that I thought was really cool-

'As surfers, we are defined not by the land masses that divide us, but by the oceans that connect us.'

Pity that for the most part it's bullshit.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Tuesday, 10 Dec 2013 at 3:20pm

Sometimes it's not even land masses that divide us but mere headlands.

"Fucken blowins!"

wellymon's picture
wellymon's picture
wellymon Thursday, 12 Dec 2013 at 11:56am

????????

the-roller's picture
the-roller's picture
the-roller Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013 at 7:35am

"conservatives who propped up the South African regime seek to reconfigure history and render Mandela harmless"...

Really?

http://takimag.com/article/mandela_what_the_obits_omit_jim_goad/print#ax...

tonka's picture
tonka's picture
tonka Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013 at 4:01pm

Wow. Do you really think that article is 'unbiased' the-roller or, should I say, the-troller?

top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013 at 4:11pm

You clicked on it Tonka? I think I once clicked on one of Roller's links. It's the sort of mistake you only make once.

tonka's picture
tonka's picture
tonka Thursday, 12 Dec 2013 at 9:58am

It was the first and last time.

the-roller's picture
the-roller's picture
the-roller Friday, 13 Dec 2013 at 5:45am

you'll really dislike this one.

too much facts and history.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7HyuLPWF9I

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Friday, 13 Dec 2013 at 8:11am

Thanks for that first post roller. I don’t agree with everything in it but it is a timely antidote to the outburst of shallow sentimentality about Mandela’s death which would be more appropriate to a prematurely deceased princess or a B grade celebrity than to a powerful politician. The widespread idea that he was some kind of love-child who brought an end to apartheid by waving flowers and singing deserves to be challenged on the basis of historical accuracy.
The great hazard of this kind of cheap sentimentality is that it becomes an excuse for the worst kind of woolly thinking; the kind that celebrates pure pacifism without considering its potential consequences or indulges in the sort of convenient ideological selective blindness that sees only one side of a many-faceted reality.
None of this is intended to undermine his importance. He was absolutely critical to achieving a relatively peaceful end to apartheid when the more probable outcome always seemed to be a descent into some maelstrom of inter-racial and inter-tribal chaos. For that alone his life is worth celebrating but, just as importantly, the example he helped set with Desmond Tutu in the process of reconciliation has had a positive influence on the way we all think about conflict resolution.
The worst aspect of the article was its cheap shot at the current state of South Africa with no attempt to put it into historical context. South Africa was ruled by a white minority for hundreds of years. Black majority rule is barely a generation old so it should be clear where the bulk of the blame for the current situation rests. In Australia we should be painfully aware that a generation of good will does not undo the damage of centuries of oppression.

the-roller's picture
the-roller's picture
the-roller Friday, 13 Dec 2013 at 11:12am

B2, if you half agreed with the first linked article, don't miss the second one. the vid presented by Stefan Molyneux.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Friday, 13 Dec 2013 at 11:37am

Will do but probably not until this evening!!

tonka's picture
tonka's picture
tonka Monday, 16 Dec 2013 at 12:03pm

Blindboy, I have to say your argument sounds a little condescending. I would suggest that many people are aware of Nelson Mandela's involvement in what I will call sabotage activities, to progress the aims of the ANC. I'm not one to condone the use of non-peaceful means, but you have to look at the use of these tactics in the broader context. Were these actions disproportionate to those employed by the people that opposed them? Were the actions worse than what other movements employ? Were the actions worse than those employed by governments around the world? I would suggest that, although not ideal, the actions Mandela was involved with were relatively restrained in the scheme of things and are outweighed by his achievements in ensuring a peaceful transition through the end of apartheid. In other words, I think that focusing on some of his less admirable aspects of his past does a disservice to his true legacy.

As for the 'failures' of Mandela since apartheid, outlined in the article posted by the roller, you'd have to be cognitively challenged not to realise that many, if not all, of these 'failures' have a number of determinants. Pinning them all on Mandela is poor taste and, more than anything, a slack assessment of the situation.

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy Monday, 16 Dec 2013 at 12:10pm

tonka if you reread my post I think you will find it actually largely agrees with what you have said. My point was not to discredit Mandela in any way but to discredit those who wish to edit the violence out of his history. My last paragraph makes exactly the same point as yours!

tonka's picture
tonka's picture
tonka Monday, 16 Dec 2013 at 12:15pm

Yes, having reread it now I can see the similarities. On first reading it appeared as though you were siding more heavily with the author of the article the roller posted. Fair comment.

z-man's picture
z-man's picture
z-man Friday, 13 Dec 2013 at 10:53am

Payback is going to be a bitch in South Africa! (not that it already hasn't been)

http://censorbugbear-reports.blogspot.com/2013/08/whites-2013-murder-tol...

z-man's picture
z-man's picture
z-man Friday, 13 Dec 2013 at 10:56am

If that last article wasn't enough here's another.

http://www.thetruthaboutsouthafrica.com/p/white-genocide-in-south-africa...

sypkan's picture
sypkan's picture
sypkan Friday, 13 Dec 2013 at 2:29pm

hey z man ever heard of karma?

roller's youtube vid and article just made me respect Mandela even more.

"one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter" that's why Yasah Arafat won the Nobel peace prize.

'terrorists' usually have good points, just their methods are questionable, their methods are questionable because polite society (usually the middle class) are slow to acknowledge injustice, its difficult to feel the urgency when you are part of the problem.

dellabeach's picture
dellabeach's picture
dellabeach Friday, 13 Dec 2013 at 10:22pm

The real consequence of the end of apartheid is that ordinary black citizens in SA have never been more alone in their struggle for true freedom. Gone is the global support for their struggle against the White oppressor. They now have new masters....and they are Black.
The end of apartheid marked the start of a different kind of racism by the West, the one that assumes that because the ruling party is now Black, the "brothers and sisters" are now OK.....because all Blacks naturally get along peacefully and equitably.
The Western world rejoices and lets out a collective sigh of relief as we can finally let go of our guilt over the treatment of Blacks by our White cousins and we turn our backs.
The fact that ordinary South Africans are now much worse off than they were 20 years ago, with the massive drop in wages and ongoing social disintegration, will be ignored by the average "Free Mandela" t-shirt wearing activist,as the work has been done. Mandela was freed, the people are free.
The Blacks of SA have been duped,they believed that elections would grant them freedom and opportunity but, as in every other democratic country, the political process has only provided them with a new master. A master who 60% of citizens think is worse than the last and more corrupt. New farmer, same farm.
When the abominable apartheid regime was in place, there was at the very least hope that one day it would end and life would be better. What hope is there for these forgotten people now? What atrocities will the ANC have to carry out before the world once again turns it's attention to the plight of the South African people?Real freedom will only be achieved the day people stop hoping for a new leader and instead, demand self-determination, of one's own fate, of course of action, without compulsion; free will.
@the-roller, I don't usually follow your music-clip links but I am happy to see you post a link to FreedomainRadio. Stefan is one of the most consistently factual and logical minds I have found on the net.

z-man's picture
z-man's picture
z-man Saturday, 14 Dec 2013 at 1:29am

hey sypkan - no, not ever. explain it to me!

by chance I understand your intent - you support the wholesale slaughter of whites in SA?

gotta respect everyone's opinion I guess ???

crustt's picture
crustt's picture
crustt Saturday, 14 Dec 2013 at 6:48am

I have spent a bit of time in South Africa, 18months in 84,85 then again for 10 months a few weeks after Mandela got released and again in 2006 for a few months. So I've seen the place at a few different stages and seen some ugly things. Have any of you posters spent any time in South Africa (more than a few weeks)? I don't have any idea of the solution to the problems over there and ask any South African and they will probably say the same.
The only thing I can say is that a lot of you are barking up the wrong tree, after being there for awhile I realized apartheid was not so much racist against blacks but more anyone that was not male Afrikaans, ask any English South African.
As an example, in or around 1990 they allowed coloureds into the public bars a year later they let women in.
All those statistics on white people being murdered and mugged, of course the percentage is going to be higher in the white population, at the moment they are likely to have the most money, coloured people get mugged to if they have anything worth taking.