RCYC ACADEMY REPORT – by Lindani Mchunu
From 1961-1989 the communist government of the German Democratic Republic ‘GDR’ began to build a barbed wire and concrete wall between East and West Berlin. The official purpose of this Berlin wall was to keep Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. Summits, conferences and other negotiations came and went without resolution. Meanwhile, the flood of refugees continued. In June 1961, some 19,000 people left the GDR through Berlin. The following month, 30.000 fled. In the first 11 days of August, 16,000 East Germans crossed the border into West Berlin and on August 12 some 2,400 followed- the largest number of defectors ever to leave East Germany in a single day. From 1949-1958 almost 3 million people crossed from East to West. The construction of the Berlin Wall did stop the flood of refugees from East to West, and it did defuse the crisis over Berlin. President Kennedy conceded that, “A wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.” In all at least 171 people were killed trying to get over, under or around the Berlin Wall. Escape from East Germany was not impossible, however: From 1961 until the wall came down in 1989, more than 5,000 East Germans (including some 600 border guards) managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, climbing over the Barbed wire, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through sewers and driving through unfortified parts of the wall at high speeds.
Man has been erecting walls from time immemorial, most of them have been physical structures, built to fortify castles and cities, dogmas and doctrines. Like all things man made in time they wither away or are destroyed by man himself only to erect more walls in future. I think these walls of brick and mortar are better than the one’s we construct in our minds, the ones that are ethereal and shapeless. These walls are the most resistant ones, like a cancer, that continually mutates and spreads from one organ to the next. In the sky we have
walls and they are called flying zones, at sea we have walls and they are called territory. They are of course imaginary, in the sense that they are not physical objects but rather lines written in navigation manuals, fortified by every countries’ navy. Yet it would seem at every turn in the pages of history, human beings have resisted the restriction of free movement. To this very day they resist to be confined to a single area, maybe it is our inherent primal instinct to be nomadic, like animals migrating through the ever changing seasons. I have always made mention that our academy is a social experiment like no other, we seek to break down the walls of colour, the walls of geography, the walls of class, yet most of all we seek to break down the personal walls of every young sailor from under-served communities, the walls that they have constructed in their minds. The walls that make them believe that sailing and the ocean is a white man’s sport, the Royal Cape Yacht Club is a white man’s place, and that to dream to be free on the open ocean with a boat and a destination is a fool’s errand. On the 28th of February I was in Durban attending the inaugural Minister’s Dialogue hosted by Blade Nzimande. The minster spoke strongly about the need for the maritime sector to Transform, he quipped that very few black people were interested in this industry, could it be perhaps because we are afraid to swim? My answer to that was to show a video of Sibu Sizathu and Sabatha Gayeka, sailing on Arch Angel flying a kite on their way to Mykonos. There was awe and shock in the room, nobody could believe what they were seeing. Two young black boys from Masiphumelele Township, so comfortable out at sea. What we are doing here is special in a way that the ordinary member of the club who has never been to a township could not imagine. This academy is changing perceptions not only on this side of the Wall but on the other side too. As we collectively warm up to the idea of seeing young black kids out on the water, so too are the people on the other side of the wall. Walls of the mind are insidious and tenacious. They are like carbon monoxide, odour less and colourless. We should be vigilant like the night owl, not of the enemy on the other side of the wall but rather the one within. I truly and honestly believe that if we can get it right, here in our small community of sailors, if we can have free movement from East to West, without any check points and walls, we can leave a legacy that many would imitate.
When I was in Durban in my Royal Cape Yacht Club Jacket, giving a presentation with my polished English, many who sat in the room, thought I am a colonised black man, I felt their walls pushing up against me and thought to myself, what a shame, if only you could cross to my side, you would be pleasantly surprised to find out that the waters of Table Bay treat me the exact same way as a girl from Khayelitsha, without fear or favour.