Disney and Us, by Lindani Mchunu.
There are things one experiences that leave a stain forever. Shooting the Disney documentary about the Academy and our Club was such an experience. We probably missed a few critical characters who should have been in the film, we probably needed more time, and we probably didn’t get everything we could have from this incredible story. It is a story built upon so many characters; it is a story steeped in history.
I think what piqued the interest of the Disney executives the most, was its uniqueness. Not just in South Africa but in the world. In the context of our country, it’s something out of a fairytale for a young girl from Khayelitsha to be sailing at a Royal institution steeped in a history that does not reflect her people.
It is a meeting of two worlds that should not co-exist at all. Yet here we are, every day, trying to find a way to make it work. In my tenure as Academy Manager for the past five years, I have seen committee members come and go. I have seen the Academy rise and fall and rise again. I experienced Covid here and saw an organization pull out all the stops to take care of its staff.
Then Disney came and it was time to tell our story in just five days. A scene comes to mind. We shot a scene with Luke Scott in the bar. We were sitting at a table and between us stood the round Robben Island trophy, with inscriptions dating back to 1906.
In 1906 there was no Khayelitsha, in 1906 people of colour were not even a footnote in the sailing world. The World Sailing Trust conducted an international survey in 2021, on the demographics of the sailing community. What they found was what we already know. Sailing is a middle aged white man’s sport. People of colour the world over don’t even make up a fraction of the international sailing community. Is there a city in the world like Cape Town, where so much has been done by so many to correct this disparity? I don’t think so.
This is our super power as South Africans. We are dealing with our imbalances. We have produced a two time Olympian hailing from Beaufort West, a young Xhosa man, who got to tell his story in the Disney documentary. His story is unquestionably linked to that of a young white man, Roger Hudson and his father. In our country maybe more than any other place in the world we are compelled to identify ourselves by pigmentation.
Those of you who don’t know me, see a black man before you see Lindani. Those who do know me have to distinguish me from other black people before you see Lindani. This is our yoke. It has been, since we first met. The colour black does not describe my skin tone at all, my hair yes but definitely not my skin tone. The colour white does not describe the skin tone of our Commodore at all, his hair maybe, but definitely not his skin tone.
Yet we are compelled to view each other this way. Black and white. Oh if life was so easy. That things were so clear cut and dry. So, what does it mean to be black? I don’t know. All I know is, that is what I am called. What does it mean to be white? I don’t know, all I know is, this is the definition one must use. The cruelty in all this, is that you get to know names and get to connect with people and quickly realize that the connotations society imposes on these definitions of colour, are so far removed from the person you work with, or sail with, that you go on a tail spin and lose all your points of reference.
Malcolm Alexander is a white man. He heads up most projects at TETA, a government institution. Lindani Mchunu is an Academy Manager at Royal Cape Yacht Club, heading up their youth sailing program. One would think these roles should be reversed to match the color of the people. Such is the context of our country. Colours place us in certain roles. Yet what happens when people converge around a specific point of interest? Like sailing. Like the Ocean.
Where all reference points are removed. Where a bow man is a bow man and a trimmer is a trimmer. Where performing a gybe set, doesn’t necessarily rely on the colour of one’s skin, but the agility and competence of individuals. This is what the documentary saw. It saw people grappling with a common issue. Convergence. How do we live side by side coming from different backgrounds but bound by a similar passion?
I believe, and I believe this very strongly that human beings are on a mission to make themselves robotic in nature. Elon Musk is even suggesting we become part machine. The underlying reason for this, is not the fear of AI and robots taking over. No. It is the fear of ourselves. We are afraid of being human. Because to be human is to be unpredictable, unstable and at times absolutely out of control. The human experience has never been black and white, and I doubt it will ever be.
The complexities are part of the experience. Like a sailor out at sea caught in fog, a pilot flying from one destination to another. We must trust our instruments. This world, in flux, what should those instruments be? Where is our GPS and Compass? History. History has told us time and time again, we do life better when we are united around a common cause, not when we are divided around our differences.
In my tenure at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, I have seen collaboration produce incredible outcomes. I have seen that even people who look the same, come from the same background, love the same sport, can have difference of perspectives and opinions, but can respect each other enough to keep pushing forward. Working together for the betterment of this organization, understanding that, this is a relay, and one must do one’s part and then be on one’s way.
Words are my weapon. Through them I get to understand not only other people, but most importantly myself. I have written more newsletters than I care to mention. My most important one will never be written. The reason for that is because such a thing does not exist. Nothing exists in isolation, everything is an accumulation of many parts. Nothing has taught me that more than watching committees change over the years.
‘Contribution’ has to be my favourite word. What you will see in the Disney documentary is a contribution of more than a 100 years that lead to the arrival of Lindani and the birth of the Academy as we now know it. I find it so odd that we are battling with race relations so much in this country, in my view, no country in the world is facing the problem head on as we are. I hope we continue down this path, even in this Club. I hope we keep pushing ourselves to be better.
I think that is what the world will see when they see the Disney Academy story. People who are trying to find a point of convergence that will bind them forever….
See you on the journey.