CAPE TOWN — 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.
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 head lock and pulling him into the pool, seemingly trying to submerge the teenager’s head underwater.
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.
Mr. Nakedi, who witnessed the assault on his son, said: “I became incensed. We have to relive the pain through our kids.”
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 on 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 a bouncer was accused of refusing entry to a Black patron without a white escort last month, protesters descended upon a bar in Cape Town. In May, the elite Stellenbosch University was the site of an uproar after video surfaced of a white student urinating on the belongings of his Black roommate.
Bloemfontein is the capital of Free State, a province that is a particularly hot kettle for racial violence. Once an independent Boer Republic for the white Afrikaans-speaking settlers who led South Africa’s apartheid regime, it remains a largely agrarian region. It also sits at the intersection of South Africa’s fiercely racialized debate over land.
Working-class white farmers frequently raise concerns about being killed or driven off their land. Black laborers have lamented the strenuous working conditions and unrealized promises of land ownership that were supposed to materialize in a democratic South Africa.
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.”
Mr. 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 said he got into the pool anyway, but as tensions increased, he and his cousin left to tell his father.
Mr. 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. Mr. Nakedi said he explained that they were, indeed, guests, and the situation appeared to clear up. Mr. Nakedi said he explained to the youths that everything was OK and they could return to the pool.
But when they went back, Kgokong said, one of the men closed the gate and stopped them from entering. An argument ensued, with Kgokong 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 and Sipho hopped over the fence. When Kgokong 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 began yelling at each other. Kgokong swam to the edge of the pool. A white man leaned over and slapped him — and chaos ensued, with the teenagers fighting back.
Kgokong 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, 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 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.”