As beaches across the country are closed in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19, and debates about their re-opening abound, it is well worth reflecting on the contentious histories of exclusion that our South African shores embody. It is also worth remembering the brave Durbanites, such as Morris Fynn, who protested against these unjust laws.

Durban beachgoers have endured segregation since the development of Durban’s Bay Beach in 1857. This type of racial exclusion was put into law when a 1960 amended version of the Separate Amenities Act precluded non-whites from accessing certain beaches. They were only desegregated in 1989, however, many argue that the legacy of segregation on South African beaches lives on. Spatial apartheid prevents them from being truly inclusive spaces, even 23 years after their official desegregation. They thus remain highly politicised spaces and their desegregation remains an ongoing and important conversation.

Morris Fynn and his anti-segregation protests

While the inequitable legacies of apartheid’s unjust laws linger on in present-day South Africa, it is important to celebrate the brave individuals who fought against them. One such man was Morris Fynn, a prominent member of the Coloured Local Affairs Committee. This celebrated anti-apartheid activist is perhaps best known for his protests against the segregation of Durban’s beaches. In 1987, Fynn bravely launched a campaign to end segregation on beaches and took to cutting down segregation signs that featured the ubiquitous ‘whites only’ text. Fynn had been convicted in 1987 and 1988 for cutting down these signs and was again arrested in 1989. He was charged with a fine of R200, which if not paid, would result in 100 days of imprisonment. However, while Fynn refused to pay the fine, one of his loyal supported did, and he was eventually released.

Morris Fynn holding his famous saw which was used to cut down segregation signs at Durban beaches.

His famous saw now resides at the KwaMuhle Museum and forms an important part of Durban’s protest history. After his passing in 2015, his daughter Iris Cupido shared her thoughts on his legacy:

“He campaigned for equal rights for all… He was brave even in the face of ridicule. They called him a silly old man and jailed him. He came out and marched until someone listened, until laws changed until we had equal rights.

How do I begin to quantify what my dad did for his people, his country? He was a son of the soil. A vanguard of torchbearers who emancipated the marginalised and disenfranchised.”

Morris Fynn, April 1987.

While segregation laws have long been repealed, many argue that their nefarious legacy lives on. Prominent journalists and academics, including Ferial Haffajee and Lynsey Chutel, have argued that beaches remain political spaces and exclusionary legacies live on. Spatial apartheid continues to define the South African landscape and thus, we need to ensure that we continue to question, untangle and dismantle the exclusionary norms that Fynn and other activists fought so hard to oppose.

Images courtesy of ResearchGate, Getty, and Times Live.