(Not Liverpool…this is serious. Read on.)
Two people drown every day in South Africa and most of them are under 14, yet the Johannesburg Metro Council is closing at least 3 pools in Lenasia and two outside the township but also serving working class communities (Rhodes Park and Murray Park).
The official reason given is there is no budget, but the cost of death in social terms does not add up. In addition, the pool in Lenasia, the Greyville Pool, has served this community well. It has taught many of the Lenasia community the basics of survival. Take the two sisters Kali Naidoo and Roshnie Moonsammy, clinical psychologist and Urban Voices Festival director respectively, who said the closure was a “shame, and a blundering disgrace… I learnt to swim and took it more seriously than learning to become a driver,” says Ms Moonsammy amidst laughter. It is true that she does not drive and thus, does not have to mediate her way through the traffic as we do, but she’s proud to say that she can swim to save her life and was keen to take up lessons to save her children’s lives, three years ago, when she heard that the pool was closed due to structural defects.
Terry Jeevanantham, Secretary of FC Barcelona supporters club and a former Bluebells United Player, has evoked memories of the Bells resistance against apartheid’s control over the Lenasia football grounds, because his team was playing in the non racial anti apartheid league. “The JCC then used their control of playing facilities to keep out non racial sport and give support for the white controlled football association of South Africa,” he said. “We resisted, and organised an international campaign to isolate Apartheid sport. Nationally we built up coalitions and we had our community, cultural activist, the bard of liberation Omar Mattera and progressive councillors like Selma Browde to thank for their support.”
For Terry, it appears that today’s officials in the renamed Joburg Metro have forgotten the contribution of this community to democracy and the fight for non racialism in sports. He should know as his family was one of the first five families that settled in the then Lenz farm, that became Lenasia.
“It’s illogical,” says musician and treasurer of Mzansi Penya Barcelonista, Gus Poonan, “why they would want to close pools in Black areas, if the Metro has a campaign called learn to swim. How can children learn to swim without a pool, and living 100 of kms from the sea?” he asked rhetorically. To back them up, campaigners to keep the pool open say that learning to swim is not only for recreation but a life skill or a life saving skill. During 2007, Swimming SA reported 652 drowning deaths, of which 44% were children under the age of 14. In addition, 144 children were four years old or younger. They also reported that if one excluded pedestrian deaths (transport related) deaths due to drowning was the leading cause.
FC Barcelona supporters got involved in the pool issue as part of their objectives to generalise the right to play for all children, and are negotiating to rehabilitate the park adjacent to the swimming pool. Last weekend, its principal officers visited the site and spoke to residents who advised them to start by campaigning for the reopening of a swimming pool that has been closed for 3 swimming summers – pools traditionally open here on 1 September.
The Greyville pool served as a training ground for many of our swimmers in the area as it was the only pool and we remain unconvinced that the reasons for closure is a lack of funds to repair some apparent damage to the pool. Many residents are saying that if the Metro Council can get funds millions of rands to bring beauty queens to Joburg, and to show off about being a world class city, why not show off to your own ratepayers by providing quality services? Lenasia, with a population of about 350 000 residents, has currently only two functioning pools.
What is more, it served one of the most depressed communities of Lenasia, who lack basic recreational facilities, and now have been dealt another blow. But they will not be cowed and have joined forces with various other sports and cultural organisations including the leading role played by Mzansi Penya Barcelonista (FC Barcelona’s supporters in South Africa), who approached individuals and organisations such as Atlantis swimming club, Dolphins swimming club, the Abu Asvat Institute and a range of other sporting codes and non governmental organisations to form Save Our Pool Campaign. The campaign has written to the Mayor Amos Masondo and, at the time of writing, has not yet received a reply. A mass protest is planned for 3 October, outside the pool area, in Greyville, Lenasia.
All sports loving fans are asked to write to the mayor to keep the pool open. If you love good sports, you love FCB
The Executive Mayor
Mr Amos Masondo
fax 27 11 339 5704
PLEASE copy us when emailing the mayor: firstname.lastname@example.org
(writer is the chair of Mzansi Penya Barcelonista, and pics by Marta Garrich, adviser to the penya)