The bathing boxes of Muizenberg
One day when I grow up I’m going to live in Muizenberg. That’s because I’ve always been crazy for the offbeat places of South Africa. Which means I’ve lived in Melville, Johannesburg, Pilgrim’s Rest, Mpumalanga and now the little river town of Cradock in the Eastern Cape.
And when my Cradock days run out, I’m gonna head for Muizenberg on the Cape Peninsula. It’s the kind of place where you can be a madcap at your leisure, let your freak flag fly and, best of all, hang out in front of the biggest ‘Kodak Spot’ in South Africa: the bathing boxes of Muizenberg.
Bill Bryson writes about English bathing boxes, which he calls ‘shallies’, Brit-speak for chalets. You can stash your belongings there, have a picnic or simply hunker down inside during bouts of foul weather. And so it is with the bathing boxes of Muizenberg beach, which was once the epicentre of spiv-class South Africa.
In the early Victorian era, fully clad women would walk down the beach in ‘boots and brolly’ while the men-folk would admire them from an appropriate and nearby watering hole. In the latter part of the Queen’s reign, the ladies of Muizenberg let a little more hang out, so to speak.
In the early Victorian era, fully clad women would walk down the beach in ‘boots and brolly’ while the men-folk would admire them from an appropriate and nearby watering hole. In the latter part of the queen’s reign, the ladies of Muizenberg let a little more hang out, so to speak.
‘Why do ladies at Muizenberg wear such unbecoming bathing costumes?’, a shocked reader enquired of his local newspaper. One can only imagine what they wore – or didn’t wear.
Muizenberg Beach has seen the likes of people like Cecil John Rhodes and the mad Princess Radziwill, who stalked him around the country, right to these very sands.
In the middle of the 20th century, however, Muizenberg’s star status as this country’s beach resort of choice dropped significantly when Durban took over.
Today, Muizenberg is a great family destination and a gentle surf spot. The ‘shallies’ and their dramatically bright colours remain, however. They are ever-eccentric and ever-nostalgic.