The Pools

A resentful memory

When I was six years old my Tietie took me to the Seapoint Pavilion pools. It’s the first memory I have of going to the pools, a 40min drive from the Cape Flats to the clean air of the Cape Coast. Where the sun is always shining and the waves crash onto the stone rock that barricades the ocean from the Seapoint pavilion. Where the whites walked around in sandals and sarongs and run along the beaches with their dogs, or tanning under the hot summer sun, always smiling at us. Their skin red and wrinkled, burning, it seemed painful to me because my skin was brown and I always bathed in the glorious sun playing outside, so my skin never burnt like the whites, it was always just brown. My Tietie was also brown, my whole family was brown, some browner than others and when we went to the pools, it was always the whole family – aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, babies – we all went together. Going to Seapoint pavilion was a family outing. We lived in Mitchell’s plain and my Tietie lived in Heideveld. So on a Friday afternoon when my parents got home from work, we’d take the train to Heideveld, where we’d meet all our other cousins and play outside until after sunset while our parents talked, smoked and gossiped inside the two bedroom flat, their childhood memories staining the yellow walls that were once white. We were called in for prayer time, all stacked into the small space like sardines, listening to Voice of the Cape while we ate our food and waited to go back outside to play, excited for the next day because we knew we were going to the pools.


When the morning came, we were woken up before sunrise, up to four people sleeping in one bed to get ready for our lift to the pools. My uncle took us, he had travelled from Mitchell’s plain just to take us, because that’s what families do. He came in a 4×4 that fit up to 12 people in it, all the kids sitting in the back while the parents took the front. Some of the parents would take the taxi because there wasn’t enough space for all of us.


We got to the pools by sunrise and avoided the lines that came after the rest of the world woke up. The children avoided payment because of uncles and aunts who worked at the pools, no relation to us at all, only old memories keeping them and our parents connected. Old neighbours of upper Ashley street, District six. It connected us all, those memories. When we walked through the rusty gates, standing on the platform that overlooked the pavilion, it looked like an oasis, the sun still hiding behind the mountain but glistening onto the waters, palm trees rustling from the slight breeze off the ocean. It was almost empty save for the few other people who had the same idea as us and of course the whites who were resident pavilion attendees. The whites lived in the high rise apartment complexes and hotels that overlooked the ocean along the Seapoint pavilion coastline. It stretched from Greenpoint up to Camps Bay and much further. All they had to do was walk out their front door to come to the pools and so they came regularly. The whites swam in straight lines from one point of the pool to the next. They didn’t do bombs in the water or tricks from the diving board, they pointed their toes, stretched their arms and dove in like robots. They wore funny hats and goggles, their hair never got wet in the water and they never splashed around and raced each-other like our parents did. It was like they weren’t having fun at all. It was like the pools were part of their daily routine and here we were coming to the pools to have our annual family outing… They never really spoke to us but my cousin Zaid had a flair with whites, he knew how to swim better than us and dive properly too. The whites liked him, he chatted with them and made friends with them and the whites would buy him ice-cream and give him money. I never had a thing for the whites but I was always jealous of their ease. I was jealous of them staying in Seapoint and the fact that I had to wait until the end of the year to wake up before sunrise to travel all that way just so I could come here. I never quite liked that idea.


Once I befriended a white girl who asked me to come back to the pools the next day, I told my Tietie about it and she said it would be fine. I got so excited and told her that I would be back the next day so we could play some more and I could teach her some tricks. I never did go back the next day and I think I cried about it for a bit until my Tietie bought me ice-cream and I was fine.


When I was six, my Tietie took me to the pools but she did much more than that. Going to the pools opened my eyes to a world much bigger than the one I was placed in.It showed me that white people were somehow better than us and even though most of those white people were probably foreign, they had a piece of something that I wasn’t supposed to have. The white people had money, prestige, decorum, rules, systems, things that I didn’t have. I realise now that as a child I never even asked my parents why we didn’t live in Seapoint, even though we enjoyed it so much, I just knew.


I asked my dad once when we were going to move to Seapoint and he told me that he had a house on the mountain that we were going to move into, that I just had to be patient. I never gave up on the dream until he died but I came to the conclusion that he may not have been lying. At some point my dad did have a house on the mountain. His childhood home was on that mountain. It’s the reason why we went to Seapoint pavilion and not a public pool closer to home, we passed several on the way to Seapoint but we went to Seapoint because it’s closer to home than any other pool in the ghetto, made for us poor coloured folk who don’t deserve a coastline. My Tietie used to tell me stories about how her and my aunts and uncles would walk to the beach from home because it was so close. But that is a privilege that I did not get to savor because that home was taken away from my Grandfather. And my Tietie will forever hold onto that memory of her childhood. She remembers it when she wakes up in the morning in a flatland and she looks out her window to see the mountain that was once so close but now so far. She lives with the pain of having to look at white foreigners who come to Seapoint pavilion to tan and not even touch the water, when her son and her nieces and nephews spend a whole day in the water because they’ll only be back next year. Those memories are the reason why some of us got in for free that day – because my Tietie and all the aunts and uncles who work at Seapoint pavilion know that the pavilion belongs to us more than it does to the white people.


It’s a feeling of loss that has been passed onto me, a feeling of loss that has grown into resentment because my love for the sea is constantly disrupted by the poison of white supremacy. When I was six my Tietie took me to the pools and showed me what white people stole from me and every time I have to take a taxi to go to the sea, that resentment grows.

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