Beyonce delivers the iconic line, in the seconds before her daughter, Blue, breaks out beside her in their syncopated choreography to, “My Power”.
“This my bloodline. On the frontline.”
While the struggle for equality in South Africa has vastly evolved since the 1980s, Queen Bee’s sentiment rings true: women and children are still on the frontlines of equality challanges. Albeit, the face of racism, sexism, and other exclusionary systems has vastly transformed.
In the days of apartheid, visions of decolonisation were easy to conjure, gain political freedom and equality for all races and genders. As the new democracy ages, and restorative justices go un-materialised, we’re beginning to unravel the fractal-like complexities of the regime’s impacts on us individually and socially through decolonial practices and movements. With it, arises greater aspirations for equality. Various social movements around the globe have delineated a temporal mark: “the de-colonial turn”– a period in which, indigenous peoples together with the diaspora are calling out post-colonial structures that maintain imperial ways of being and doing.
On this day that we pay tribute to PAN-African feminist social movements of the 1950s which opposed sexism and racism (and their accompanying violence) and promulgated the fall of Apartheid, I’d like to contribute to just one aspect of South African living that is still in desperate need of decolonisation, nature spaces.
One of the most obvious aspirations of freedom fighters was land retribution (i.e. reclaiming what was violently stolen). We should not forget that that encompasses Mzansea 1 too.
I’d like to paint a picture of where we we currently are, and just how far we need to go, before the Hydrocommons 2 can be considered fairly and equally shared.
Though the “whites only” signs have been taken down, what proportion of racial admixture is seen in daily water-based activities of False Bay?
At the societal level, awareness projects call for justice for the armed and uncompensated forced removals of Cape-Coloured, Black, and Indian families that took place well into the 1980s in Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, Red Hill, Glencairn, Strand and other suburbs of False Bay. These homes have been uninterruptedly dominated by white families ever since. The same families who complain at Christmas and New Years that their beaches are being taken over. The ignorance and irony is unmissable.
We could ask, “Who are the people whose connection to the sea was severed?”;
“who still holds access to blue spaces and benefits from it?”; and more insidiously, “who uses their acquisition of land in these suburbs to drive personal profits from the Hydrocommons?” However, at this stage in our democracy, they are rhetorical questions and moot points.
We’re discovering that it is rather at the embodied individual level, that apartheid’s repercussions are least visible, as we begin to make sense of the intergenerational trauma our bodies and psyches hold while we go through the process of decolonising ‘the self’. We grapple with long-term effects, and daily affects, of displacement from imperialisms, and if we’re one of the few privileged People of Colour (POC), the disconnect and reconnect to nature.
While a collective call for diversification of the Hydrocommons exist, there lacks a voice about the visceral experience of being a tokenised-body amidst a normative in-group. One that is heightened by water, as we strip down, exposing melanated skin, and zip-up our bikinis, wetsuits, and the double-consciousness that facilitates the tolerance of our limited selves in the space thus far.
I’m pictured above in Water Bodies (Part 3) by local ally and photographer Haydn Basson. A privately published project that was open to public participation, and not created with the intention of making political commentary, yet beautifully captured the radical unapologetic protest of merely existing in an exposed brown body, and taking up space.
Representation in the Hydrocommons matters, not just because people simply want to be able to see, but be, themselves authentically. Additionally, normative society passes the opportunity to deeply learn about cultures they continue to erase by blinding themselves to their (however un/intentional) gatekeeping practices.
“I know almost all of the POCs diving in Cape Town Saydy, and so do you.”
– Mogamat Shamier Magmoet
What began as a personal pursuit to find and dive with more POC (while perusing through local dive groups) I can now estimate that POC make up no more than 10% of the regular diving community of False Bay. Diversity in student underwater clubs fair higher than adult ones, and gender diversity sits at a more respectable 60:40 (M:F) ratio (if there is a researcher willing to take on this count in less heuristic way, please reach out!)
… Can we sincerely call it the Hydrocommons when so many of our families have been purposefully severed from the sea and their children are still so severely underrepresented? All while claims for “reconnection” are purported by aspiring euro-centric wellness programs? The Hydrowitmanns seems a more apt name, until a time when POC can come home to their birthright seascapes.
The call for equality may look different than the 1900s 3, but it is no less necessary as it was when women of South Africa strapped their infants to their backs, and marched to Pretoria. We have the opportunity and collective responsibility to create a more welcoming and inclusive ocean community. Environmental protection must be intersectional or it will fail, not only in its motivations, but also its outcomes. Watch this space for a follow up on, “A path for reconciliation in the Hydrocommons”.
- MzanSea is a play on the Xhosa word Mzansi (meaning south) and colloquially refers to South Africa. MsanSea is the title of a short-film by Otto Whitehead, and name of a local group of marine scientists. More info at: https://www.instagram.com/mzansea/
- The hydrocommons here, refers to water-bodies which are communally accessible and can be used responsibly with care practices based on ontological philosophies of human and more-than-human relations (including to our own individual water-based bodies) refined by Astrida Neimanis. Her work, “Bodies of Water” provides an alternative intersectional environmental justice approach (of post-humanist feminist phenomenology) to the theory of the “tragedy of the commons”. I.e. it challenges the 1960s euroamerican assumption (and underpinnings of modern economic modelling) that resources which are communally accessible, will be overused if left unregulated, since people only care about things they own individually and will exploit that which they do not own at all. Neimanis argues instead, that interrelatedness can, and has been, used in countless acts of care and connection which facilitates sustaining communally accessible spaces.
- The 1900s is chosen here to include the periods of imperialism, independence, apartheid, and the eventual arrival of democracy in South Africa.
Avail. at https://www.instagram.com/p/CtDUKq0xYBn/?img_index=7
This image was captured from a canvas print hanging at the Langa Dompass Museum in 2016.
Hector Pieterson and caregiver, avail. at https://worldschildrensprize.org/skelton4.
Personal archives of Haydn Basson (contact: https://www.instagram.com/haydn_undersea/).
About the author:
Saydrina Ann Govender is a voyager, traditional climber, diver, and ballerina. They are a
qualified and practicing sustainability consultant, with a background in neuropsychology, atmospheric science, and expertise in urban planning. They graduated with a BSc.(Hons) from Uni. Cape Town and MSc. from Uni. Leeds.