Maintaining the history of Muizenberg

By Jaime Uranovsky

The multicoloured beach huts that dot the Deep South’s coastline form an integral part of Cape Town’s history and constitute one of the most iconic representations of beach-going in the Mother City during the summer.

These huts hold particular meaning for locals and holidaymakers of generations past (many of whom were and are Jewish) who flocked to Muizenberg and its surrounds to take advantage of the sand and surf. Indeed, for many in the South African Jewish community and beyond, the sight of the huts brings back fond memories of time spent on the beach with family and friends. While the Municipality has been responsible for the upkeep of the beach huts over the years, the huts are hardly a priority and have fallen into disrepair. Moreover, they are maintained on an ad hoc basis, such as when a step needs replacing. This has resulted in what local resident and professional photographer Angela Gorman calls, “a complete mongrel of bits of wood”.

Indeed, it was the state of the beach huts which inspired Angela to take matters into her own hands last year and to create the Beach Hut Trust, dedicated to fixing and saving the iconic beach boxes. She explains, “It started … when we come out of that hard lockdown and were allowed back on the beaches and we went to go and have a walk on Muizenberg Beach. We just saw the absolute state of disrepair of those beach huts and, being photographers, both my husband and I can’t walk past there without wanting to take a picture …and I was just shocked by it. Then I wrote on my own Facebook page how sad I was to see the disrepair and someone said, ‘Oh go on, you can start something; you fix it’, and so I started a ‘Save Our Beach Huts’ Facebook page and it just grew exponentially.” Soon after, fellow Deep South residents Charles Maisel and Daniel Blaauw joined Angela in the quest to ensure the survival of these colourful landmarks.

Charles, a social entrepreneur and non-profit innovator extraordinaire, has a long history of spearheading award-winning projects that enact social change. Some of these include the Men on the Side of the Road Project, Black Umbrellas (currently one of the largest business incubators in South Africa and a partner entity of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation), and Be!Bold — a university entrepreneurship programme. On the value of the project Charles says, “The image of your childhood is going to Muizenberg beach, sitting by the beach huts and not knowing much about them but knowing that that the historical image in your mind is very engraved, especially in the Jewish community, and that makes it such a feel-good project”.

Initially, the Trust aims to refurbish the 31 beach huts along Muizenberg but, ultimately, hopes to renovate all 67 huts, which stretch as far as St James and Simonstown. The team has already completed its first hut on Muizenberg. The work of the Trust is more urgent than one might think since, if the huts are not maintained, the City will destroy them. Angela, Charles and Daniel are trying their best to ensure that this does not happen. Charles explains, “It’s all about history. Even though the huts are not recognised that way as part of the Historical Society, it’s the history of the individual, history of what you remember as being a kid, or of your grandparents and… hopefully we can create the history of the future now… because if we don’t fix them the City is going to remove them forever; they have already told us… So, if you think about it like that, those huts gone forever from the landscape of Cape Town, that’s a bit of a travesty”.

As news of the project spread, it touched the hearts of individuals around South Africa. For example, Everite, a company which produces nutec (a synthetic material that is fire-resistant, waterproof, and, as Angela says, is “virtually indestructible”), has offered to donate nutec boards for the initial 31 huts along Muizenberg. The Director of Everite, who lives in Pretoria, was inspired to get involved because of his own love of the beach and his memories of the huts. Another company, based in Somerset West, will be helping with the stairs. Angela notes, “It’s no longer a Muizenberg project. It’s a national project and it’s been amazing”.

Recently, Pick n Pay has partnered with the Trust by launching recyclable cloth bags with images of the beach huts on them. These bags are available at Pick n Pay stores nationwide and R5 from each one will be donated to the Trust. Angela estimates that these sales will allow them to complete two more huts.

Another supporting initiative is the selling of beach-hut-coloured buffs by Trust member Daniel, mentioned above. Daniel, who Angela refers to as ‘Mr Tourism of Muizenberg’ donates 20% of his profits to the cause.

The team is always looking for new partnerships with both individuals and organisations and would love to connect with people who have memories of Muizenberg and the huts themselves. Charles explains, “The idea we’ve had as well is for people to also tell us their stories, their experience of the beach huts and how they made them feel, and their history, and engage with the public in that way”. Angela, Charles and Daniel are also interested in input from individuals regarding how to use the beach huts in the future. Charles says, “We’re still playing around with different ideas once they are fixed, beautiful and safe, but we are open to ideas: maybe having small businesses in there, some tourism related activities”.

For more information:
Facebook: Save Our Beach Huts
Instagram: saveourbeachhuts

• Published in the print edition of the March/April Pesach 2021 issue. Download the March/April 2021 issue PDF here.

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