A Racist Epithet: Out of the Closet - And Into Our Film

Documentary

 

This year marks the 20th anniversary since South Africa's first democratic elections, which in 1994 drove the final nail into the coffin of Apartheid. To commemorate this event and measure the depth of racial healing between blacks and whites in "The New South Africa," longtime Mantle correspondent Michael J. Jordan launched a documentary-film project, The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story. Below is Part 2 of his six-part travelogue from his recent production trip, on the making of this film.

 

*

 

As we race back to the Golf Club, my mind churns with strategies and tactics for how to “cover” this story.

 

The white leadership granted us unfettered access to the course, the clubhouse, and the championship itself—trusting our intent to highlight actual positive progress in their infamous hometown. Yet now a K-word grenade has exploded in their faces.

 

For a white to spew kaffir at a black in “The Rainbow Nation,” twenty years after Apartheid—well, those are fighting words! Or worse. And on the golf course, no less?

 

Yet it's now past five in the afternoon. The golf tournament is winding down, and our natural light is dissolving. But here we are, car-bound, our crew and gear rattling over the ever-present potholes of provincial South Africa.

 

A few streets from the Club, we spot two of the black caddies, done for the day, walking along the road. Screeching to a stop, we bounce out and switch on the camera.

 

Both caddies are about 40, though their weather-beaten faces made them look much older. They began caddying in their early teens—during Apartheid, just like our black golfer-heroes, Samuel and Monte. However, while those two are now full-fledged members of the Club—and solidly middle-class—these two fellows are still just caddies. Hovering near the bottom rung of society. Their skin color no longer keeps them out of The Clubhouse; only their empty pockets do.

 

In a mix of English, Afrikaans and their native Setswana, they describe what happened on the course, expressing anguish that it's been a “very long time” since they last heard the k-word—and spit with such venom.

 

“It was very painful for me,” recounts Henrik Petersen, who heard it up close. “I was feeling to fight, but it’s not right … As people, we must live together. That’s the way it is. He must respect  us—as we must respect him.”

 

Fellow caddy Phillip Mazwi goes further, demanding justice.

 

“We are busy trying to build up, and this takes us back—to the Apartheid,” says Mazwi. “It’s discrimination. And they must take that whitey to the police station and open a case: for defamation of character.”

 

Defamation? I jot it in my journal. Even a caddy in The New South Africa now recognizes hate-speech when he hears it—and calls for legal action against it? (More evidence, I note, of how far the country has come.)

 

As we park back at the Club, I tell my cameraman: Keep the camera rolling.

 

I see Danny interviewing Sam, capturing his blow-by-blow narrative. And Sam, already frustrated by lousy scores on both days, is threatening to quit the Club itself—if no action is taken against the offending golfer.

 

Meanwhile, I corral the nearest white golfer—Jonny, the brawny young dentist who’s actually just won the championship. His victory is now a footnote.

 

“It's quite an embarrassment for us, as we weren’t expecting something like that,” says Jonny, on camera, shrugging his shoulders. “I’ve never heard it before here. We’ve come far in this country. It’s not something I see daily, or experience. So to come out on a day like this, it wasn’t even in the back of mind that something would happen.”

 

Nice sound-bite. Adds perspective. But I know my top priority: Club leaders. On camera, reacting. To convince them to do so, though – even why it's in their interest to do so – will require all the persuasive diplomacy, and desperate lobbying, I can muster.

 

 

Follow Michael on Twitter @mjjordanink

 

 

Apartheid, Racism, South Africa, Sports