Interview with Serge Pavlovic: Legalizing Mpenjati Nude Beach in South Africa
Interview with Serge Pavlovic On Legalizing South Africa’s First Official Nude Beach – Mpenjati Nude Beach
As many of you have likely heard already, South Africa recently got its first official, legal nude beach! It’s called Mpenjati Beach, which is located on the KwaZulu-Natal coast. This was a combined effort of the various naturist associations in South Africa, and it’s a great step forward for the naturist movement there.
Organized naturism in South Africa is also fairly new, which makes this accomplishment even more noteworthy.
In wanting to learn more about the struggles in legalizing this beach and about naturism in South Africa, I decided to reach out to Serge Pavlovic to interview him. Serge is the Chairman of the Western Cape Naturist Association (WCNA), as well as Vice Chairman and Spokesperson for the South African National Naturist Association (SANNA).
As you might guess (or know, if you saw some of the media coverage), Serge was a key player in acquiring this official nude beach, and it was interesting and informative to hear what he had to say about the experience.
So hope you enjoy the following interview.
First, pardon my asking such an inane type of question, but I’m confused about the organizations in South Africa. Are they all part of one big network? I see references to “SANNA” but I’ve only seen actual websites for the Western Cape Naturist Association and Gauteng Naturists. So is SANNA an actual organization or just a reference term for all the South African groups?
LOL. We go about the business of organizing naturism in this country a little bit differently than the rest of the world.
We believe that in order to promote naturism properly, most of the work needs to be done “closest to the ground” and that is why we are striving to establish Provincial Naturist Associations all over the country and these associations are “under the umbrella” of the South African National Naturist Association (SANNA).
SANNA is (or better yet – going to be officially from the 15th of November this year after our national meeting at Sun Eden Naturist Resort) our country’s representative with the INF (International Naturist Federation).
Its purpose within the country is to be a hub that connects, represents, establishes and maintains communication (exchange of ideas and know how) between the different Provincial Associations.
Provincial Associations are the ones that promote naturism in their regions. They will be generating individual memberships as well as affiliate naturist establishments. They are also registered with the Department of Social Development of South Africa as nonprofit organizations.
Representatives from Provincial Associations form the Committees and leadership of SANNA. SANNA is not here to dictate to the rest of the country what to do. It’s here to assist, encourage and support their activities.
How long have you been involved with the Western Cape Naturist Association (WCNA) and how long have you been chairman?
I have been involved (or let me put it this way, trying to be involved) with the naturist movement in South Africa since 1991 (the year I arrived in this country). Finally, in 2009, we had our first get-together in Western Cape and officially founded WCNA in September 2010.
So I have been involved with it right from the start. I was actually one of the four people who wrote our “Constitution and Code of Conducts.” I am the first (and only) Chairman of WCNA but hopefully, next year, we will elect a new chairman.
I do believe that is not good for the image of an organization like ours to have the same chairman for a such a long time. But there was a lot of work to be done for WCNA to be able to stand on its feet.
The members of WCNA were of the opinion that I was the right person (all these years) to do the work. While the members still want me to stay as chairman for even longer, I am currently in the minority with the opinion that I should step down next AGM. We will see what happens.
After the initial success of WCNA, the rest of the country adopted our way of working. I myself have been personally involved and assisted in the establishment of the “Provincial Associations” and SANNA.
Currently, I am Vice Chairman and Spokesperson for SANNA too.
Was Mpenjati beach previously an unofficial nude beach? If so, when did that area start attracting naturists, and how popular was it?
Mpenjati Beach (as many other beaches around the country) was “commonly known” as a defacto naturist beach for the last 20 years. South Africa is not like Europe where almost every beach has some naturists that congregate at the far end of it. Here in SA, we usually find more remote and secluded beaches for nude use. We have beaches all over the coast that do not have much “traffic.” Those beaches are where people can, and do, strip off and enjoy the sun in the nude.
That was the case with Mpenjati beach, too. Almost every day of the year, thanks to the tropical climate of the area, you would find some naturists on this beach.
The beach itself is quite small. It only stretches about 500 meters. Therefore, there is never a big crowd. That said, naturists that are living or visiting the area, are there almost every day (weather permitting).
When did SANNA decide to apply for Mpenjati to become a legal nude beach, and what made you / them decide to pursue it?
This was actually an initiative of the Chairman of Kwazulu Natal Naturist Association (KZNNA), Christo Bothma. KZNNA is an association in charge of promoting and generating membership from that region, and he felt that this is what this area needs. Once his application was received by the Hibiscus Coastal Municipality, he requested help from SANNA and SANNA obliged, in line with its mandate that it has. This was a team effort of many naturists from all over the country and it is a proof that our “business model” for promoting naturism in this country is working. Keeping ears close to the ground definitely helps.
Are there any other unofficial nude beaches in South Africa?
The best known and the most popular one is Sandy Bay in Cape Town and I regard it as a heritage site of the South African naturist movement. In the 70’s and 80’s naturists were regularly arrested on this beach, but today whenever one tries to explain that he or she is a naturist, the easier way to do so is to mention that he or she is a regular visitor to Sandy Bay.
There is a beach in Wilderness that is visited by naturists, but not very well known called Natures Valley. This is one of the most beautiful beaches to my knowledge, in a part of South Africa that is one of the best tourist destinations.
The Secrets is a beach in Port Elizabeth and everybody in this region knows about it.
And last but not least is Umchlanga Lagoon north of Durban that is second most visited beach in South Africa. The biggest attraction for the naturists that are visiting this beach is the warm waters of the Indian ocean and tropical climate.
Were there ever any problems with illicit behavior like drug use or public sex, at Mpenjati beach?
I am not aware of any past or present problems on this beach. As with any other area in South Africa (and for that matter, around the world), Port Edward, where the beach is situated, is not without its problems.
But I do not know of any incidents that have taken place on the beach.
The media made it sound like there was a lot of opposition from the public, to making it a legal nude beach. I think one article said 80% of people were opposed to it. Was there that much opposition, and was it as big a controversy as the media said it was?
It was and still is the “talk of the town.” Especially now, after so much public debate. We entered the debate with the mindset of giving it a 5% chance to succeed. During the debate, we presented our case and facts about naturism. We argued the potential regarding naturist tourism and for the first time, in a public setting, we were told that we split the council and residents in the area.
Opposition in the begging of the process and in the public debate was fierce. But, as time went by, more and more voices of support and voices of reason were heard.
To be honest with you, we have found that our opposition most of the time didn’t have any valid argument. Most of the “anti” arguments were not based on facts. They were mostly based on preconceived notions and emotions.
Even today, there are some that say that they will take this decision to the Constitutional Court. Others want to picket at the beach and another group thinks that this beach will attract “undesirables” to the area, etc.
You must understand, South Africa is still a very conservative country. Even though publications with nude models are available everywhere and almost every movie or TV channel has nudity… nudity on a public beach will and has found very few supporters.
South Africa is another one of many countries around the world that would rather leave nudity for the privacy of the home. Even though more people enjoy it than are ready to admit.
It’s almost like you were better off when people didn’t know the nude beach existed. The fact that it wasn’t a known spot before should be proof that its existence doesn’t harm anyone else.
I must be honest with you, that is how even some naturists feel. But how do you go about promoting naturism if you are going to “stay in the closet”?
My personal opinion is that naturism around the world would be much more supported and enjoyed by more people if we change the attitude you stated above. I believe that people need to “get out of the closet.” They need tell the world how wonderful the naturist lifestyle is. I do not believe that we have anything to be ashamed of or to be secretive about.
We also need to promote the naturist movement around the world if we want it to survive long after we are no longer on this Earth. Even if it means that we have to deal with some issues that are not enjoyable or appear to be difficult.
These are the hoops that we need to jump through in order to the secure future of the movement. Especially if we wish to attract the youth and public at large to the movement.
Oh, don’t get me wrong – I totally agree that it’s much better to have it as an official, legal nude beach! There’s no question that it does much more to promote naturism and helps it become more accepted. Plus I would think legalizing it would make it much harder for officials to suddenly close the beach if they wanted to.
I just meant to point out that with the beach’s longstanding existence as a peaceful nude beach, it makes it even more absurd for people to claim the beach will draw in rapists and criminals, when it never did before.
You are right, in the 20 years that naturists were coming to Mpenjati beach, nobody was thinking to write a single complaint to the authorities about prostitution taking place there, or lewd behaviour on the beach, or that they cannot ride their horses or walk their dogs, or for that matter no one was even dreaming to picket at the beach. As I said in one of my interviews, we didn’t bring anything new to the area, we just succeeded in legalizing what was taking place there for decades already.
You had an online petition for people to support the nude beach. It was signed by people from all over the world. Did the petition help garner local support? Did it affect the outcome?
While we were running the petition online, we were sharing updates weekly with everyone online and with associations around the country and the world as well as local officials. Even though we did not see it being attached to the agenda of the Council meeting. When the decision was made I’m sure that it had an impact on the process of final decision making.
The whole region of Hibiscus Coastal Municipality depends on tourists all year round. A large portion of the GDP of the region is delivered from tourism and the segment of naturist travel is not being explored at all right now.
I am sure that all those names on the petition from all over the world was attractive to the Council as a market that can be easily explored. They are definitely expecting help from us in that regard.
At the same time, all associations around the country are experiencing renewed interest from the public regarding either becoming members of naturist associations or exploring the naturist lifestyle for the first time.
In addition, interest from the media is increasing by the day. Together, it’s bringing naturism to the public eye in a manner that is only complimentary.
We are very pleasantly surprised with all the attention and the way that naturism is seen on the public stage.
In the end, what do you think made the whole application successful? Did a lot of the council members themselves need convincing or were they unexpectedly receptive to the idea? Was the potential revenue increase from tourists one of the main selling points?
I think a huge part of the Council going along with our proposal is the Constitution of South Africa. We brought to their attention that Chapter 2 Section 9 (3) of South African Constitution states:
“The State may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sex orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, and birth.”
Of course the Council could not ignore the Constitution of the country. But the possibilities that decision opened and with the potential job creation in mind, I think it was an easy decision to make (without us having to lobby anyone). ANC Councillors were our biggest supporters which was quite surprising.
And yes, potential increase of revenue from naturists traveling to the region was a good selling point.
It’s interesting that they would recognize the Constitution’s line about discrimination as being relevant to this case. Obviously it doesn’t say anything about nakedness, but I suppose naturism fell under “belief” or “culture”?
Yes, it would also be my understanding that naturism falls under “beliefs and culture” in the South African Constitution.
The South African Constitution is one of the more progressive constitutions on this planet. Even gay marriage is legalized here. One would ask, what is the problem with nudity then?
It is very simple, as I said before, even though you can see women’s breasts exposed on the covers of magazines as well as in traditional ceremonies throughout all tribes in this country…this country still remains very conservative. That is why I still tip my hat to the Hibiscus Municipality for making a very brave decision that is in line with our Constitution. It doesn’t matter how progressive the writing is on a piece of paper; it takes a lot of courage, diplomacy and determination to act as the Council has in announcing this decision.
This was a historic moment if not for all South Africans, definitely for the South African naturist movement, and I am proud that I was, and still am, part of that process.
Do you think this success will lead to the successful legalization of other nude beaches in SA? Is SANNA planning to pursue legalization of other nude beaches?
We will approach Cape Town City Council, as soon as holidays are over. We will also reach out to the Western Cape Provincial Government as well as SANParks (that is directly responsible for Sandy Bay) in order to declare Sandy Bay an official naturist beach.
This beach, as I have mentioned before, is synonymous with the naturist movement in South Africa. A large part of the South African population is of the opinion that Sandy Bay is already an official naturist beach.
Therefore, with a lesser known naturist beach (Mpenjati beach) just being declared a naturist beach, we think Sandy Bay should be next to follow.
It is still not going to be an easy process. But now we know better as far as how to deal with authorities and how to motivate this proposal better than we did in KZN.
The media from the Eastern Cape Province is already asking if we have put the proposal to the City Council of Port Elizabeth requesting “Secrets beach” to be declared a naturist beach as well.
So, it seems the public at large is actually eager to have more naturist beaches around the country. But our resources, time and man power is not there to tackle everything at the same time.
We will definitely take it one step at a time.
(Note that it will be another month or two before naturists can officially visit Mpenjati nude beach – it still needs to go through a coastal access application, and then nude beach signs have to be put up.)
If you’d like to learn more about WCNA, you can visit their website at http://www.wcna.co.za/. You can also follow Serge on Twitter: @WCNAChairman