First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
TA mecca for surfers for the last 100 years, the slightly scruffy town has seen something of a revival in the last 15 years, without losing its 1960s boho charm. Surf shops offering boards, suits and lessons have popped up, along with restaurants and coffee and ice cream shops. It’s a small ecosystem, a microcosm of the South African economy if you will, with formal and informal operators coexisting, none of them making a fortune.
Arguably it’s Cape Town’s second most popular precinct, after the Atlantic Seaboard, and attracts thousands of people during the height of summer. I mention it specifically for the reason that it is busy – this is no deserted Noordhoek or Scarborough beach – and some management of use is required as we battle to curb transmission of the virus.
Every coastal city – and I use city deliberately – has at least one or two beaches that are busy over the peak season and weekends.
Yet I can’t help wondering how Charlie and Max and the guys and girls who run the surf stores, and Leonard from the burger bar, are doing? Similarly, how are people who operate in the small economies of Langebaan, Knysna or Scottburgh doing? There is no UIF or Ters for them. For South Africans, that ran out in October.
Once again, the beach and booze bans are occupying the national discourse, when what we should be doing is focusing on improving the efficacy of the health system and persuading our fellow South Africans to get vaccinated and to stay away from potentially toxic drugs like Ivermectin, which is used for dipping cattle.
It feels like lockdown déjà vu.
The regulations, correctly, are an attempt to curb the spread of the virus and thus impose restrictions on the movement of people and sale of alcohol. Most South Africans accepted that they were appropriate, particularly during the Christmas season, when pressure on beaches was high and the tendency to abuse alcohol higher.
The problem comes when regulations start to feel dictatorial and arbitrary, and the measures to enforce them seem out of proportion to the risk.
Under current regulations, the sea is not closed (and not dams or rivers either). Yes, gathering on beaches is forbidden – as it is in many parts of the world. But the fact that the sea beyond the beach is open and all recreational sports are currently allowed implies a right to traverse the beach to access the sea.
There is also precedent in South African law for this approach, according to Shayne Krige of Werksmans Attorneys.
In addition, he points out, where there is a gathering on the beach the regulations provide that an enforcement officer must order the persons (you cannot have a gathering of one) at the gathering to disperse. If they refuse, then – and only then – can the enforcement officer take appropriate action, including arresting or fining the individual. It’s worth adding that a person can only be guilty if they are participating in a gathering and refuse to disperse.
I mention this not to pick up cudgels for the surfers, swimmers and beach walkers, but because I’m appalled at the use of stun grenades, helicopters and literally hundreds of metro police officers to police something that shouldn’t require policing. There are more cost-effective ways of solving a problem. In Australia at Bondi Beach, which is famous among surfers, a “Surf and Go” policy was introduced, where users accessed the sea through a designated thoroughfare and had to leave the beach as soon as they were finished. A similar situation in Muizenberg would require at most a dozen officers…?
The booze ban is another issue entirely. On the one hand, there is a powerful industry that contributes significantly to the fiscus, and that supports hundreds of thousands of people up and down the value chain. It is the smaller people lower down that chain that is suffering the most under the current regulations. They have few financial safety nets.
On the other hand is the irrefutable point that alcohol wreaks havoc on our society and, some would say, detracts more from our GDP than it contributes.
This is not news, but Covid has shone a spotlight on this issue, and it’s one that needs to be dealt with and not shoved back under the carpet when the virus has been tamed.
Covid-19 is going to be around for at least the better part of 2021, if not longer. I don’t believe the government can continue to rule by diktat. What we need are more nuanced solutions to collective problems that keep people safe and employed. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.