(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.)
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.”
Indeed, while The Clubhouse paints a human, intimate portrait of one black man’s struggle, we also open a window onto racial healing across post-Apartheid South Africa – two decades on.
However, this is more than just a film: I’m also writing an anti-racism, pro-tolerance curriculum for African schoolchildren – based on the lessons learned from The Clubhouse, and the need to bring down walls between majority and minority.
Below, I’ll describe more about this two-pronged project … and why we believe it must exist. Then I’ll explain why we’ve turned to Indiegogo – and decent folks like you – for your urgent help to complete it. Our trailer here only draws upon the interviews we did during our recent research trip. With your support, we’ll raise the funds to return, put meat on the bones of this remarkable little story, and finish production. Then, on to post-production.
Lastly, if our words and images on this site still aren’t enough to prod you toward PayPal … perhaps Our Perks will.
Thank you for reading!
The Clubhouse … And Why It Matters
In this fractious world of ours, some of the most poignant and uplifting stories to emerge from the globe’s far-flung corners is how often sport unifies people. It can bridge the divide over race, religion and tribe – as it gently humanizes “the other.”
The Clubhouse, though, is more than a golf story. Even more than a South Africa story. Our world continues to be plagued by sectarian violence and warring factions – Syria, Ukraine, South Sudan, Israel-Palestine, to name a few.
Twenty years ago, South Africa seemed on the brink of civil war – how did it emerge unscathed? Even more, what lessons can we all learn from the “Rainbow Nation”?
To be fair, the lives of both blacks and whites were flipped upside-down. And as a newcomer to South Africa, I tackled the challenge of this project with no preconceived notions or biases about black or white. As a result, our film is unique in that it expresses empathy for the tumult and trauma of both communities.
Moreover, as South Africans today mark those landmark 1994 elections, they spar daily over economic, social and development issues. As in any functioning democracy. Yet, while most South African media dwell on all that’s gone wrong in The New South Africa, our film highlights how more now unites than divides blacks and whites: joint disgust at crime, corruption, cronyism and lousy service-delivery.
Certainly, some racial tensions persist. But as our black and white characters both tell our audience, a culture of civility and respect has descended across the country – even across their infamous hometown. The uglier thoughts that one man may feel toward another are now suppressed – for the greater good of inter-racial harmony.
So, while The Clubhouse tells the story of the black golfer who shattered a glass ceiling – and the reformist Golf Club leaders trying to smooth his integration – we spotlight how each side symbolizes progress within the country today. “Apartheid” meant separateness; to what degree do South Africans today enjoy togetherness?
Ventersdorp … And Why It Matters
That’s why we illuminate Ventersdorp, as a microcosmic litmus-test for an entire country. It’s the hometown of Eugene Terre’Blanche, the nation’s most militant defender of Apartheid – and base of his resistance movement, the AWB.
In August 1991, AWB extremists took to the town’s streets, clashed with cops and shocked the nation – even Wikipedia has enshrined The Battle of Ventersdorp. It marked the first time during Apartheid that white police killed white protesters – a watershed moment that branded this place as South Africa’s “most racist town.”
Our film takes viewers inside the whites-only Ventersdorp Golf Club – which for four decades was the ultimate bastion of segregation and racism. A young black caddie like our hero, Samuel Phutigae, was routinely insulted as a kaffir – the Afrikaans term for “savage” or “heathen.” Forbidden from entering the cozy inner sanctum of the clubhouse, he was handed food and drink through a small window on the side.
At the 1994 elections, Samuel was just 19 – and dreaming of life as a professional golfer. Yet he was long denied that fundamental first step: to play inside the Ventersdorp Golf Club.
“This was the freedom I wanted,” he tells our audience.
Nevertheless, the Golf Club repelled his crusade … for fifteen years after Apartheid. Even America’s most famous golf courses were only forced to admit blacks in 1990 – 125 years after slavery, a quarter-century after the Civil Rights Movement.
Still, the nearest golf club to Ventersdorp – 80 kilometers away in Klerksdorp – allowed blacks to play right away. Samuel and a friend used to hitchhike there every weekend to play. Klerksdorp also admitted its first black members in 1998 – a full 11 years before Ventersdorp. What made Ventersdorp so extreme?
For the whites in this town, the Golf Club was their last stand. Their last remnant of a nostalgized past. An oasis – and escape – from “The Rainbow Nation.” So, they resisted all external pressure, and even from more open-minded members inside.
Finally, in 2009, a more progressive leadership is voted in. They admit Samuel.
“Some call it window-dressing,” says Allan Jones, who was Club President at the time and remains the only white member of the Town Council today. “Yet his membership is very important for the public to see, not only to change the image of Ventersdorp, but to show how South Africa itself has changed.”
“Besides,” adds current Club President Jacques Viviers, whose farming family traces its roots to the 19th-century pioneers who founded Ventersdorp, “Sam is a really good guy … and a hell of a good golfer.”
Samuel thinks he’s arrived – that in Ventersdorp, everything has changed. How wrong he is, though. Just a few months later, Terre’Blanche himself is murdered – the latest of what some watchdogs claim is well over 3,000 white farmers killed to date, part of a “genocide” waged against them since the dawn of democracy. In Ventersdorp, the outrage is immediate: Terre’Blanche’s supporters vent their fury at The New South Africa with such emotion, that it threatens to consume the town.
How does Samuel cope with the renewed rage – especially as it seeps into the clubhouse? Now that he’s on the inside, enjoying full membership, how do white members handle this awkward new reality? Is change only skin-deep? Is he mere window-dressing? When ugly incidents rear their head inside the clubhouse, how will Samuel – and reformist leaders – respond? And today, five years later, has Samuel truly been accepted as equal? Is he welcome inside the clubhouse … or not?
Surprisingly, though, The Clubhouse ultimately contains a positive message. Because, the real story here is not just that in a town with a nasty history of racism, this courageous young black man spent so many years banging on the door of equality. Nor is it that the Club deflected all pressure to shed its segregationist ways.
Instead, we recognize that the Club eventually did change. The Club did open the doors. And that momentous gesture, as Samuel tells us, has paved the way to at least some racial healing. So, if Ventersdorp can change, why can’t others?
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Samuel tells our viewers.
“I’ve got that confidence that we are getting there,” he says. “There’s no more black and white. My name is Sam; your name is John. Sam and John are getting there. They are friends. They are going out together. Golfing together. That’s how it works nowadays.”
This lesson-learned is so valuable, in fact, that it lies at the heart of our anti-bigotry, pro-tolerance curriculum for African schoolchildren and young adults. As someone who for 10 years has created my own curricula for courses and trainings, I’ve begun drafting a multimedia instructor’s manual for a one-month, five-session workshop, complete with discussion topics and written and oral exercises.
We’ll pitch it to international groups like UNICEF (which boasts a peace-building curriculum of its own) and various Ministries of Education and anti-discrimination NGOs across Africa – to both raise awareness of minority-majority dynamics in their own communities, and sensitize youth toward greater harmony.
(If you’d like to learn more about this curriculum, or have any suggestions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
OK, now you see why we’re true-believers in this project. Have you become one, too?😉
Our Team … And Why We Need Your Help
By now, I feel like we’re also becoming friends. Which is why I’ll level with you about the curious plight of not-for-profit folks like me and my partner.
On the one hand, I’ve reported for the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, Global Post, Harvard’s Nieman Reports, and many others over the past 20 years. On the other, I teach journalism today on three continents: in Hong Kong, where I teach Minority and Immigrant Reporting as a five-time Visiting Scholar; in Prague, where I train scores of aspiring foreign correspondents; and in HIV-ravaged Lesotho, where I’ve lived for two years and preach Health Journalism to my African colleagues.
Indeed, in a nation that suffers the world’s third-highest rate of HIV infection – a staggering 23 percent – I recently finished the most important training of my life: showing Basotho journalists how to produce serious, responsible stories that spotlight the most sensitive of all anti-HIV strategies: Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision. (Yes, surgical removal of all Basotho foreskins, from ages 15 to 49.)
On the ground, though, I’ve found a comrade-in-arms: Danny Lurie. We share a passion for telling meaningful stories, but also for teaching young people how to produce them. Danny brought to Lesotho his own training organization, set up shop at the football-and-HIV-awareness center, Kick4Life, and trains disadvantaged but enthusiastic young Basotho how to shoot video as citizen-journalists, exploring important issues here – like access to clean, safe water.
One of their film projects in production happens to be about Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision. I’d coached two of his guys during my VMMC training – and I’m now pitching in their script consultant. Pro bono. Because I believe in Danny’s work.
He and I do not lack for ideas or dreams – all we need are enough donors!
But back to The Clubhouse. For any foreign correspondent to parachute into an alien land, then attempt to report a story with any authority – as I’m doing with this film – it’s a risky proposition. So much room for error – and misinforming the audience.
What I knew about the post-Apartheid transition was that an historic, 20-year anniversary was approaching – and the most effective way to tell the story was to humanize it. That led me, step by step, to Ventersdorp and its Golf Club. But Danny has proven to be a vital sounding-board for my pursuit of the story.
He himself was born and raised in rural South Africa, on his father’s corn-and-cattle farm. During Apartheid, black farmhands lived and worked their land. Yet Danny developed a palpable empathy for black Africans, especially his countrymen. Which means he grasps the Ventersdorp reality in a way that an outsider like me never can.
Likewise, one of his first South African trainees was a tall, wiry taxi-driver named Herbert Mashishi. Herbert happens to be black and grew up in an Apartheid-era township. He embraced the camera as a tool for visual story-telling, especially of social issues. Danny eventually invited Herbert to be his training partner. As such, Herbert joined The Clubhouse team as a cameraman – and second confidant to me.
Lastly, I wouldn’t want to forget to mention that we were joined on our recent research trip by Justin Keane, our Irish humanitarian friend in Lesotho, who shot the lovely photos you see inserted within this text. Quite a memorable road-trip it was.
Our Perks … And Why You’ll Want One
Our team has so far taken two trips to Ventersdorp, which is a six-hour drive from Lesotho, along bumpy, single-lane country roads. Both trips were on a shoe-string, as we pulled cash out of our own pockets. Labor of love, indeed.
We now have two production trips planned, including one to film our hero, Samuel, competing as an equal in the annual Golf Club Championship. For petrol, accommodations, food – and to pay a talented cinematographer from Johannesburg to join us throughout – we estimate our costs at US$10,000.
Speaking on Danny’s behalf as well, now that we’ve learned of the Indiegogo community – and decent-minded members like you – we’d like to offer each of you an opportunity to join us on this adventure. (How welcoming of us, right?)
More seriously, we invite the support of anyone who cares about international affairs, universal values, anti-racism efforts, inter-racial healing, Africa, democracy, and the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Or, if preserving historical events for future generations is your thing, The Clubhouse will contribute to the time-capsule of an entire nation of 53 million and heavyweight of sub-Saharan Africa: South Africa.
However, if doing something simply for the sake of humanity is not enough incentive … then check out the right-hand column of this page for our Perks. See that stylin’ logo of ours? For that I must credit my new Zimbabwean friends, a graphic-design team based in Lesotho. Imagine their eye-catching, conversation-starting artwork plastered across your chest. Or, emblazoned on your morning cup of coffee.
These gifts, though, are only tokens of our deep appreciation. How about an appeal to your vanity? And more lasting recognition? Dig deep in your pocket, and we’ll attach your name to the film. No, not up on the marquee … with us. But in the credits! Wherever it appears. Online, as well. And on our curriculum’s website, too.
So, if you purchase a T-shirt or mug for US$100, we’ll name you among all our supporters. But with a nod to recent Winter Olympics, we also offer you a chance to climb up on “the podium” with us. If you give $250, we’ll list you among our Bronze-Medal Producers. Give $500, and it elevates you to the status of Silver-Medal Producer. And for $1,000, we’ll forever fete you as one of our Gold-Medal Producers.
Thank you so much, in advance, for supporting our film, The Clubhouse.