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(This is Part III of my six-part travelogue from shooting our documentary film, The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story. To join our team, please visit our Indiegogo site. For more travelogue, here’s Part I, Part II, Part IV, Part V & Part VI.)

Allan Jones is no ordinary sheep-farmer. He's helped lead another flock toward racial equality. (Photo: Justin Keane)

Allan Jones is no ordinary South African sheep-farmer. He’s also helped lead a flock of golfers toward racial equality. (Photo: Justin Keane)

VENTERSDORP, South Africa – In 2009, Allan Jones, a successful sheep farmer and progressive town councilman, was elected President of the Ventersdorp Golf Club.

And as The Clubhouse describes, Allan is also the local mover-and-shaker who would soon play the pivotal role in steering the whites-only Club to finally admit Sam and Monte as their first black members. A mere 15 years after Apartheid.

Allan seems an unlikely revolutionary – until you learn his back-story. During Apartheid, though he enjoyed the privilege of white skin, he also felt “marginalized” amid the white reign over the black majority. Reared in this heartland of Afrikaans-speaking Boers, who trace their roots to the hardy voortrekker pioneers of the 19th century, Allan instead descends from “the English” who later settled in the region.

Meanwhile, unlike the conservative Boers, Allan belongs to the Methodist church: one of the few places during Apartheid where blacks and whites sat as equals.

Fortunately for me, Allan was one of the first people I met in Ventersdorp, during my initial visit in April 2013. I’d read that he was the only white on the black-dominated Town Council, so wanted to ask how life had been flipped upside-down. It was Allan who sparked my idea for this film, by casually noting, “So much has changed, that our Club now has not one, but even two, black members.”

He bought into The Clubhouse – and cleared with Club leaders our full access to the golf championship. So at this moment, with us reacting to a dramatic twist to our story, it’s Allan I seek out. Again, to grease the wheels of Club cooperation.

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(This is Part II of my six-part travelogue from shooting our documentary film, The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story. To join our team, please visit our Indiegogo site. For more travelogue, here’s Part I, Part III, Part IV, Part V & Part VI.)

Interviewing Samuel on the Ventersdorp Golf Course. (Photo: Justin Keane)

Interviewing Samuel on the Ventersdorp Golf Course. (Photo: Justin Keane)

VENTERSDORP, South Africa – As we race back to the Golf Club, my mind churns with strategies and tactics for how to “cover” this story.

The white leadership granted us unfettered access to the course, the clubhouse, and the championship itself – trusting our intent to highlight actual positive progress in their infamous hometown. Yet now a K-word grenade has exploded in their faces.

For a white to spew kaffir at a black in “The Rainbow Nation,” twenty years after Apartheid – well, those are fighting words. Or worse. On the golf course, no less?

Yet it’s now past 5 in the afternoon, the golf tournament is winding down, and our natural light is dissolving. But here we are, car-bound, our crew and gear rattling over the ever-present potholes of provincial South Africa.

A few streets from the Club, we spot two of the black caddies, done for the day, walking along the road. Screeching to a stop, we bounce out and switch on the camera.

Both caddies are about 40, though their weather-beaten faces made them look much older. They began caddying in their early teens – during Apartheid, just like our black golfer-heroes, Samuel and Monte. However, while those two are now full-fledged members of the Club – and solidly middle-class – these two fellows are still just caddies. Hovering near the bottom rung of society. Their skin color no longer keeps them out of The Clubhouse; only their empty pockets do.

In a mix of English, Afrikaans and their native Setswana, they describe what happened on the course, expressing anguish that it’s been a “very long time” since they last heard the k-word – and spit with such venom.

“It was very painful for me,” recounts Henrik Petersen, who heard it up close. “I was feeling to fight, but it’s not right … As people, we must live together. That’s the way it is. He must respect us – as we must respect him.”

Fellow caddy Phillip Mazwi goes further, demanding justice.

“We are busy trying to build up, and this takes us back – to the Apartheid,” says Mazwi. “It’s discrimination. And they must take that whitey to the police station and open a case: for defamation of character.”

Defamation? I jot it in my journal. Even a caddy in The New South Africa now recognizes hate-speech when he hears it – and calls for legal action against it? (More evidence, I note, of how far the country has come.)

As we park back at the Club, I tell my cameraman: Keep the camera rolling.

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Danny talks shooting strategy, as Michael and Herbert listen. (Photo: Justin Keane)

Danny talks shooting strategy, as Michael and Herbert listen. (Photo: Justin Keane)

VENTERSDORP, South Africa – It’s late in the day, and we’re losing daylight. My documentary-film partner is leading one camera crew, while I lead our second.

My phone rings, as I’m driving.

“There’s been a development,” says Danny, soberly. My mind flashes to the top-shelf Sony we’re renting for a small fortune, per day. “Come quick!”

After 20 years as a foreign correspondent, it’d take a lot to rattle me. In fact, I love the challenge of adapting, of switching gears, under pressure. Especially when you’re on the ground, when time is precious – indeed, when time is money.

One thing I’m learning from documentary film, just as I’ve learned over the years from “parachute” reporting into 30 countries: not even a well-hatched plan goes according to plan. So when the inevitable crisis strikes, how do you handle it?

No, you don’t panic and throw in the towel – You’re a professional, dammit! Your reputation is at stake. Even the university student or young journalist who’s serving as your interpreter is watching you, studying your response.

So, you breathe deep, soothe the voices in your head, collect the facts, assess the situation. Will you shift into salvage-mode? Or, take the steps that produce an even better story? As we Americans put it, “When dealt lemons, make lemonade.”

The range of crises is vast.

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(For more on The Clubhouse and the notorious farming town at the heart of our story, read my article here. It was originally published on the New York-based website, The Mantle. To join our team, please visit our Indiegogo site.)

As Danny looks on, I introduce our project to a crowd of well-wishers ... and donors! (Photo: Justin Keane)

As Danny looks on, I unveil our trailer to a crowd of well-wishers … and donors. (Photo: Justin Keane)

MASERU, Lesotho – We spread the word. You answered the call. And then some!

At our fundraising launch-party in Maseru last night, Danny and I were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for our documentary film – and touched by the generosity of The International Community of Lesotho. More than 12,000 maloti (US$1,200) raised. We even sold a bunch of t-shirts and coffee-mugs!

If you couldn’t join us last night, don’t fret: it’s not too late to climb aboard our bandwagon. We’ve just gone LIVE with our online Indiegogo campaign, giving ourselves 60 days to hit our US$10,000 goal. Feel free to check in on our progress!

As promised, I’ve already enshrined all the names of our supporters to date – who’ll forever be linked with the production of The Clubhouse. Please see our second update. And let’s double-check those spellings and institutional affiliations. We want to get it right in the credits of our film!

Meanwhile, we must spotlight those who contributed to our special evening. Three ambassadors were in the house. That’s three-fifths of those resident in Lesotho!

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(The following article was published April 27, 2014, on The Mantle. It’s an article spun off the feature-documentary project I’m producing with my partner, The Clubhouse. For more on that film, plus photos, please click here. To join our team, please visit our Indiegogo site.)

Anna Moabi says she no longer fears for insults or beatings from white farmers. (Photo: Justin Keane)

Anna Moabi says she no longer fears for insults or beatings from white farmers. (Photo: Justin Keane)

VENTERSDORP, South Africa – Saturday morning in The New South Africa.

Samuel Phutiagae slips on a green polo and dark khakis, topped by his cherished accessory: a black baseball cap with the TW logo of Tiger Woods – his favorite golfer. In the front yard, his six-year-old daughter, his golfing partner, and their golf bags tumble into his car. Within minutes, Samuel is steering gently onto the grassy parking lot of the Ventersdorp Golf Club itself. Tee-off is at 9.

The scene appears so normal – except that Samuel is no ordinary golfer. He’s a black man in post-Apartheid South Africa. And as the nation marks 20 years since its first democratic elections, on April 27, 1994, the first black member accepted into the all-white Ventersdorp club is something of a revolutionary.

For nearly half a century, South African golf clubs like this were bastions of white elitism, segregation and overlordship. Samuel himself was an impressionable 12-year-old during the tumult of 1980s Apartheid South Africa when he began to caddy at a local golf club, to earn a bit of cash for his family and for himself.

The term “caddy,” though, sounds too polite. The white golfers treated him “like a dog,” he says, and often dropped the most searing of racial insults, the “k-word” – kaffir. When Samuel and other caddies needed drink or food, they knew to march around the clubhouse, to a side window. For blacks, only.

“I used to tell my friends,” he says, “‘One day we’ll be inside this club – playing. You’ll see.’ But they didn’t believe me.”

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(The following text, trailer and photos will soon appear on the crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo, as my partner and I launch an online campaign to raise US$10,000 for our feature documentary, The Clubhouse. In post-Apartheid South Africa’s most racist town, our film explores how one Golf Club finally admitted a black man – and opened the door to racial healing.)

Our Project

We've been inspired by Samuel Phutigae's heroic journey -- and hope you will, too. (Photo: Justin Keane)

We’ve been inspired by Samuel’s heroic journey — and hope you will be, too. (Photo: Justin Keane)

April 27, 1994. A day that produced one of the seismic events of the 20th Century.

Nelson Mandela and the euphoric first democratic elections in South Africa – which snuffed out one of the world’s most racist and despised regimes: Apartheid. Overnight, voters handed power to the long-suffering black majority – and in a flash, reduced their white overlords to a vulnerable minority.

Today, exactly twenty years later, how can we gauge, and even illuminate, the depth of racial healing in The Rainbow Nation? This documentary provides compelling evidence. To tell the story, I went to South Africa’s most racist town, where I found one ordinary black man. Who’s done something extraordinary.

I’m an American foreign correspondent who has reported from 30 countries over the past 20 years, mostly across post-Communist East Europe and the former Soviet Union. I now live high in the mountains of Southern Africa, where I’ve teamed up with a South African filmmaker-activist, Danny Lurie, on a unique film project.

Thank you for taking the time to visit our Indiegogo campaign, to learn about the feature documentary that we’re making down here: The Clubhouse: One Black Golfer’s Fight for Equality in South Africa’s Most Racist Town.

Please watch our trailer, as we chronicle the heroic journey of one black man, from one notorious farming town, as he chases a seemingly simple dream: to play golf. The only course in town, though, belongs to the stubbornly, whites-only Golf Club. And the Club’s decision to finally relent and allow him to play their course speaks volumes about how far the white minority has come along, too.

“It was the right thing to do,” explains Club President Jacques Viviers. “And many of us knew it.”

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Members of our July 2013 TOL Foreign Correspondent Training Course (Photo: mjj)

Members of our July 2013 TOL Foreign Correspondent Training Course in Prague. (Photo: mjj)

BUDAPEST, Hungary – I’ll never forget my sister’s reaction, when I told her ten years ago of my plan to teach journalism, too. To paraphrase, she wondered: What’s to teach? All reporters need is a pen, pad – and write down what’s happening. Right?

She herself is a family doctor, who’d absorbed a mind-boggling amount of specific material to become one. She wasn’t trying to offend me, or denigrate my craft. Yet her words gave me a greater appreciation for all there is to teach about journalism.

I began to mull more deeply not only how I do what I do, but why exactly I do it this way: from philosophy and psychology to strategies and techniques, in my research, reporting, interviewing and writing. Or, when handling sources, editors and others.

On the flip side – now that I’ve taught students and trained journalists on four continents – I’ve also identified what I cannot teach about journalism. Just three things, really. But they’re biggies, of course: curiosity, empathy and life experience.

Fresh from leading my latest foreign-correspondence training in Prague, I’m reminded why each of the three is also essential to producing the most meaningful, most effective story-telling from faraway lands.

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