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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

White men charged in attack on Black teenagers at pool in South Africa

The Black teenagers said the Christmas Day altercation started when they were told the pool was for “white people only.”

By John Eligon

A violent attack by a group of white men on two Black teenagers at a resort pool in South Africa on Christmas Day has sparked widespread outrage, reviving images from the ugly days of apartheid and serving as a stinging reminder of the country’s unresolved racial tensions.

Cellphone footage of the assault — which the teenagers said started when they were told the pool was for “white people only” — spread widely on social media. It showed scenes that could have been from decades ago, when apartheid-era laws restricted South Africa’s Black majority from using public facilities designated for white people.

Brian Nakedi, a former underground fighter against apartheid, said his 18-year-old son, Kgokong Nakedi, was one of the teenagers assaulted at the pool in Bloemfontein, a city about four hours south of Johannesburg. Both denied online claims that the youths had provoked the fight.

Brian Nakedi, who witnessed the assault on his son, said: “I became incensed. We have to relive the pain through our kids.”

A video clip shows one man delivering an open-hand slap to the face of one Black teenager, another graying white man casually holding a cigarette as he tugs the hair of the other Black youth, and one of the men wrapping the taller youth in a headlock and pulling him into the pool, seemingly trying to submerge the teenager’s head underwater.

On Wednesday, three white men were arrested and charged: Johan Nel, 33, and Jan Stephanus van der Westhuizen, 47, appeared in court on assault charges. A third suspect, 48, whose name was not released, is scheduled to appear in court Thursday on a charge of attempted murder. None of the suspects or their lawyers could immediately be reached for comment.

Since the fall of apartheid nearly 30 years ago, South Africans have proudly declared their country a “rainbow nation.” But the encounter, at Maselspoort Resort and Conference Center, adds to a litany of racist episodes that have induced soul-searching and hand-wringing among South Africans.

After video of the violence at the pool surfaced, President Cyril Ramaphosa released a statement calling on Black and white South Africans to condemn racism.

“Under the rule of law, we must let investigations take their course,” he said, “but under the rule of law, we can and must also declare that racism has no place in our society and racists have no place to hide.”

Brian Nakedi, 58, said family members had booked a house for three nights at the resort for their first reunion since the coronavirus pandemic began. The venue is divided into two parts, he said — homes and chalets on one side, where his family was staying, and a wooded campground on the other side that is usually occupied mostly by white visitors.

The resort’s management did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Kgokong Nakedi said that in the early afternoon on Christmas Day, he and his cousin, Sipho Khumalo, 13, had set out to swim at the pool on the campground side. Almost as soon as they arrived, he said, white guests began asking them what they were doing there and saying that they were not allowed. Kgokong Nakedi said he got into the pool anyway, but as tensions increased, he and his cousin left to tell his father.

Brian Nakedi said he went to confront the men who had stopped his son and nephew. It appeared, he said, that they thought the teenagers were not guests at the resort and, therefore, not allowed to use the pool. Brian Nakedi said he explained that they were, indeed, guests, and the situation appeared to clear up. The elder Nakedi said he explained to the youths that everything was OK and they could return to the pool.

But when they went back, Kgokong Nakedi said, one of the men closed the gate and stopped them from entering. An argument ensued, with Kgokong Nakedi and the man jabbing their fingers at each other, according to security footage from the pool provided by the Nakedi family, who said the resort’s management had turned it over.

Kgokong Nakedi and Sipho hopped over the fence. When Kgokong Nakedi jumped in the pool, almost all of the white occupants of the pool, a dozen or so adults and children, got out, video showed. Two white children remained in the water.

Then, security footage showed, some of the white visitors and Kgokong Nakedi began yelling at one another. Kgokong Nakedi swam to the edge of the pool. A white man leaned over and slapped him — and chaos ensued, with the teenagers fighting back.

Kgokong Nakedi later said that the man who was trying to hold him underwater kept saying, “You’re fighting for the water; now you’ll die.”

Kgokong Nakedi, who was born after 1994, when apartheid in South Africa ended, said that members of his generation, known as the born-frees, were “not tolerant at all to such racist acts.” Still, he said, his parents had raised him to be cautious, knowing that as members of a rising middle-class Black family, they would be venturing into spaces that were once the preserve of white South Africans who would not necessarily welcome them with open arms.

“He made sure that I know myself and I love myself,” Kgokong Nakedi said of his father.

He said the pool episode had not destroyed his faith in South Africa’s nonracial democratic experiment. “There are a lot of flaws,” he said. “We are a young nation, but great things take time. We are working toward something great.”

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