The hot spring near Caledon in the Western Cape has a long history, having been used by people since long before colonial times. The spring, known as the Bruin Bron (brown source) is surrounded by a Victorian structure which is a National Monument.
The water is fantastic, hot, brown from dissolved iron and other salts, and relaxing. The pool is big and deep enough to actually swim in, though once you get into the water, ideas about swimming and other athleticisms quickly dissolve away. Everyone is relaxed, and indeed relaxation is the reason they are there.
I first went there in the 1980s when the spring was run much like a municipal swimming pool – for Whites Only, with a grumpy white man in attendance and a very low admission fee. We would meet a few locals and the occasional spa tourist, usually German.
Then 1990 came and apartheid disappeared (yay!) The admission price stayed low and more locals, many of them people who had previously been excluded, began to use the baths. They came with grannies, children, aunties and uncles. The atmosphere was familial, multi-generational and jolly, and everyone was easy-going, having been relaxed by the water. This is not to say that I ever experienced it as crowded – at the most, perhaps twenty-five people occupied the pool.
The old regime, with their moral roots in a bizarre form of fascist Calvinism, did not allow gambling or casinos. The new regime, led by the ANC, had no such scruples, and a casino was quickly opened near Caledon. For reasons I have never understood, the casino came to have control of the baths.
Because of the National Monument status that the baths enjoy, the new owners couldn’t change the pool and the structure around it. I think that they were also obliged to keep it open to the public. But the R5 admission fee rocketed to R100 and more, and apartheid was effectively restored. I’ve been there twice since, paying exorbitant prices and vowing “never again.” The place is silent and empty, except for the occasional tourist couple, usually orientals. About half turn away when they see the colour of the water.