More than a recreational facility

2011-09-28 00:00

IT was simultaneously sad and vexing to see the once-sparkling Berg Street swimming pool in its current state of neglect, (The Witness, September 20). Municipal spokesperson Brian Zuma is out of touch with reality. Not to prioritise security at a public swimming pool smacks of ignorance.

Currently, at the Eastwood swimming pool, the concrete panels of the perimeter fence have been removed and desperate children are swimming in the unhygienic waters. A tragedy is looming there. Similarly, the historic Berg Street swimming pool was capitalised on by vandals and the homeless. The state of neglect of the pool clearly indicates the indifference of the municipal officials and their lack of knowledge relating to the management of recreational facilities.

Unwar Rawat, former lifeguard at the Berg Street pool, is obviously feeling the pain. In the days of apartheid, the Berg Street Amateur Swimming Club kept the flag of the South African Council on Sport (Sacos) flying high at the immaculate pool. Young talent was identified and many Natal swimmers emerged from the club. The pool was our base. Top Sacos-affiliated swimming clubs from Durban participated in galas at Berg Street. In addition to sneaking in enthusiastic swimmers of darker pigmentation, Rawat emerged as a successful coach and the Berg Street pool was the focal point for youngsters after school. We advocated way back then that “a child in sport is a child out of court”. Evidence of this is the fact that many of the youngsters who thought of the pool and club as home are very successful in the world today. Some own their own businesses, while others are professionals.

To add to the uniqueness of the then Berg Street Indian Swimming Bath was the big-hearted Ruth Adams (now late) who worked for a pittance as a cashier. Adams defied apartheid bylaws and like Rawat paid the entrance fees and permitted black children to swim. She could not tolerate seeing innocent children peeking through the fence that prevented them from cooling off on a sweltering day. Adams was a strong advocate of Sacos and fought hard to advance its principles. Children on the wrong side of the apartheid divide were hidden away when officials from the Parks Department visited the pool — one such official is a senior councillor today!

Berg Street swimming pool is home to children living in the lower city areas, the majority of whom are black. Swimming is an essential life skill and it is imperative that Zuma and the city officials move fast and restore the pool to its pristine condition. Likewise all other public pools must be restored and opened. In the long term, public pools must be opened on September 1. This public facility that was realised after three brothers tragically drowned has a rich history aside from serving as a recreational facility.

Thank you to Thobani Ngqulunga and The Witness for highlighting the calculated ruin of the historic Berg Street Baths. In doing so you have also exposed the inefficiency of the Msunduzi Municipality and unqualified officials who continue to administer the city. The R300 000 to repair the pool is now wasteful expenditure. A city drowning in debt simply cannot afford to be so careless about the administration of ratepayers’ recreational facilities.

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