The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

White men charged in attack on Black teens at South African swimming pool

White men were charged after attacking Black teens at a South African swimming pool on Dec. 25. (The Nakedi family)
5 min

Police in South Africa charged a White man with attempted murder and have charged two others with assault after an attack on Black teenagers trying to use a swimming pool while on vacation sparked widespread outrage.

Video of the incident, which was shared widely on social media, appeared to show a White man choking and striking a Black teen in the face before pushing another Black teenager into the pool and gripping him in a headlock, seemingly to try to push him underwater.

Kgokong Nakedi, 18, told reporters that he and a 13-year-old cousin were assaulted on Christmas Day by White people at a vacation resort they were visiting in Bloemfontein, in the Free State province. Nakedi said it started with verbal harassment as the people tried to prevent the teens from using the pool, then escalated into assault. Nakedi could not be immediately reached for comment early Thursday.

“They harassed us because we are Black,” Nakedi told News Central TV. “They said we were not allowed to swim in the pool because it is for Whites only.”

Nakedi’s father, Brian Nakedi, said the family had arrived at the resort Saturday for their first family reunion since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. He said his son had come to him from the poolside around noon Sunday and asked him to speak with several White men who refused to allow the boys to swim. Brian Nakedi said the men told him there had been a misunderstanding.

“We thought we had settled this matter,” he said, but soon several men were attacking the boys “like marauding wild animals.”

“A scuffle ensued, and this other guy was vice-gripping Kgokong and telling him he’s now going to kill him because he doesn’t listen,” Brian Nakedi said. A younger White man intervened and saved his son’s life, he added.

The incident disrupted the family vacation and brought back dark memories for Brian Nakedi. “To relive what you have lived before, it’s a tough thing, especially if it’s reminiscent of the apartheid system,” he said.

“It was a very selfish act of aggression that came from people who subscribe to racism and working against what we are trying to build in this country: non-racism and Ubuntu,” he added, referring to the South African philosophy underpinning racial reconciliation efforts in the wake of apartheid.

The incident added fuel to a national conversation about persistent racism almost 30 years after the end of South Africa’s apartheid era. Bloemfontein, one of the country’s three capital cities, was the site of a 1996 race riot that prompted the University of the Free State campus there to informally resegregate its dorms. More than a decade later, viral videos — one in 2008 that showed White students forcing Black workers to eat what was said to be urine-soaked food, and another in 2010 showing Black students throwing water at White students — drew attention to persistent racial tensions.

A 47-year-old suspect, Kobus Johannes Classen,, appeared in court Thursday to face a charge of attempted murder. He was released on bail of 20,000 South African rand (about $1,180); his next hearing was set for Jan. 25, according to a statement from the national public prosecutor’s office.

Two other men — Johan Nel, 33, and Jan Stephanus van der Westhuizen, 47, face charges including common assault and “crimen injuria” (“unlawfully and intentionally impairing the dignity or privacy of another person”), according to police, and have already appeared in court.

Police declined to confirm whether the men charged were the same as those who were seen in the video, noting that video evidence was still being considered by the court. The police and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa have referred to the video in public statements, however.

Nakedi said a relative recorded the attack and that the footage was posted online.

In a statement Tuesday, Ramaphosa called for the country to take a united stand against racism. “As black and white South Africans, we should be united in condemning all manifestations of racism and attempts to explain or defend such crimes,” he said. “It is deplorable that adults dealing with teenagers resort to violence with such disturbing ease.”

According to an earlier police statement, officers arrived at the Bloemfontein resort on Christmas Day shortly after 3 p.m. and found that the groups had dispersed. A man at the scene then approached the officers and alleged that two teenagers had been assaulted by a group of White men over use of the swimming pool, police said.

“Certain minorities think that they own the place and it’s their country,” Kgokong Nakedi said in the interview. “But the truth is, it’s our home. Things like that are outdated.”

Brian Nakedi said both teenagers have been “withdrawn” since the attack but had access to counseling and social support from the provincial government.

“Justice is on course,” he said. “We believe in the rule of law, and we have confidence in the justice system.”