At first glance, Cape Town’s Sea Point Promenade looks like your typical public chill-out spot. (Well, minus the fact that it’s gorgeous and so close to the Atlantic that it nearly spills into it; I’m more accustomed to Toronto parks littered with broken picnic tables and empty dime bags – but maybe I’m not visiting the right ones…) It’s more the behavior of visitors at Sea Point’s pools that seems ordinary: young kids jokingly pull down their friends’ swimming trunks, an employee diligently tests the pools’ pH level, teenagers flirt and frolic in skimpy swimwear and the lifeguards complain about their crappy sun block.
Before the TIFF screening of Sea Point Days, director François Verster described the promenade (the film’s main locale) as the most densely populated area in Cape Town. Only white people were permitted to use Sea Point during apartheid, but today it attracts a mixture of races and classes. Verster uses the park and its visitors to bring light to some of the bigger issues facing post-apartheid South Africa.
So while the opening shots of the film show people lazing about the promenade, the tone quickly changes as we hear black teenagers in the Sea Point showers talk about the way their friends at school use guns. Their realities are juxtaposed against scenes with the white residents at a nearby nursing home where the dolled-up grannies, complete with pink lipstick and coiffed hair, have dance recitals and do exercises from their chairs. Then we shift back to the beach, where a homeless black man who dreams of working in theater says he’s a South African citizen but gets stopped on the beach by police for no reason, and is treated like an outsider in his own country.
Throughout the film, both black and white people give mixed signals about today’s reality in South Africa. There are some from both groups who believe apartheid is a distant memory, and others from both groups who believe it is permanently engrained in the culture regardless of it being over on paper. As the caretaker at Sea Point Promenade says, it could take another generation before the lingering grip of apartheid truly loosens its hold on the country. Verster’s film shows that a stroll through Sea Point’s promenade is much more than your ordinary walk in the park.