A question from a member recently led to an answer that is probably of wider interest. The question was in regard to Muizenberg’s iconic bathing boxes, many of which are in serious disrepair. Why has this been allowed?
Simply put, few people these days want to keep towels or swimming costumes (or surfboards!) on the beach. In their heyday the boxes were immensely popular. They were owned by the Council and rented to residents and holidaymakers. As Muizenberg declined so did the use of the bathing boxes and by the mid-70’s they were no longer profitable. Decay set in. I don’t know how many there were at their height but one hundred would not surprise me. The infamous Snake Pit was a patch of clear sand between the boxes and the promenade, where Jewish youngsters on the hunt for some holiday romance would strut their stuff. On fine days it was packed.
The clean-up began at the end of the 20th century. Ruined boxes were removed and the few good ones placed on the beachfront. Nowadays there are two distinct sets of boxes; eight of them attractive and reasonably well-maintained at Surfers Corner, and the derelict rest (36) further to the north close to the vlei outlet. It is unwise to leave anything of value overnight even in the good boxes. At some stage False Bay Tourism got involved, and took over management from the council. The good boxes (some single, some double) have been let to individuals on long leases for a one-time fee. They can be used for private purposes only, not for business. One interesting fellow is experimenting with turning his box into a camera obscura, by drilling holes in the side wall to allow an image into what is effectively a darkroom.
As part of the lease the occupants are required to maintain their boxes and to keep them secure. Petty crime, theft and vagrancy are all issues that will mushroom if the boxes are left to decay, and for that reason all the doors have been removed from the disused boxes.
The derelict few can be cannibalized for parts. Determined individuals can still ask for a free bathing box from this scrapyard, but must have it moved towards the station and repaired at their own cost.
The Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society and many other residents are proud of the remaining few well-maintained boxes. They epitomise Muizenberg’s glory days and it will be a sad day when they go.