(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.)
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.”