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Taking a big stick to beaches and booze does not inspire confidence

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Sasha Planting is a seasoned financial journalist and Associate Business Editor at Daily Maverick Business.

On any given morning in Muizenberg, Charlie, a car guard from the DRC, is on ‘shift' from sunrise, which in summer is about 5am. That’s when the local surfers, swimmers and walkers start ambling down to the beach. They greet him by name, as they do the other six or so car guards who frequent the strip. These informal operators have become so entrenched in the local scene that surfers leave their car keys and other miscellaneous items with them – even their dogs.

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.

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All Comments 18

    • Picked up on that too. The Ivermectin debate is way more complex than simply describing it as “toxic”. Maybe Sasha should read her co-contributors views on this topic before judging it.

  • Interesting to note that more than 20 000 people have been arrested for transgressing the regulations relating to lockdown. How many have been arrested and charged for fraud and theft relating to COVID-19? Clearly ANC henchmen are not surfers.

  • The safest thing is that where we do require some enforcement, such as funerals and full taxis, the government has a lax attitude. It is becoming impossible to see any other motives but political ones when it comes to these topics…heath of the people cannot be the primary driver for some of these decisions.

  • The iron fist cannot employ the art of nuance. The real problem is perception. Blanket, hard bans seem irrational and arbitrary and makes it seem that personal agendas are unleashed on a battered public. It also feels like the state machinery all too often treats our citizens like children. Of course, it is exacerbated by clever, wilful people who think that regulations cannot possibly apply to them personally and who need to be coerced (sometimes with stun grenades) into complying. It’s certainly both. Our society in many spaces is a toxic mix of violent authoritarianism and personal irresponsibility.

    Maybe we are thinking this all wrong. What we need are fewer regulations. We seem to have so many unenforceable laws. Turn STOP streets into yield intersections – why put up a stop street that everyone ignores and that can’t be policed. So make it a yield sign. At least with yield sign one doesn’t expect anyone to stop. The sensible folks will and the hooligans won’t anyway. Why try to enforce a prohibition when we all now that that is not going to prevent people drinking but it will most certainly make people feel disgruntled. Rather reduce the hours of off-sales and have a tighter curfew. Both these are much more enforceable, doesn’t force legal substances into the control of organised crime, saves jobs, and best of all, doesn’t turn a willing citizenry into the unwilling.

  • Regarding the beach, you have my 100% support.
    Regarding alcohol, if responsibility was delegated to the retail sector by giving retail outlets the responsibility to control drunkenness and rowdy behaviour, as they do/did in Australian pubs, the matter would reduce in effect.
    The Government is testing its ability to impose direct control on the population a la Communist countries like N Korea and China

  • “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”…and, of course, perhaps ensuring that everyone who goes out in public actually wears their mask properly, and effectively social distances – get everyone to do that, and you will almost certainly significantly reduce transmission, which reduces the numbers in hospitals, which makes it that much harder for government to justify their increasingly ridiculous rules.
    That said, there seems to have been a lot more arrests made of surfers and fathers desperate to buy baby formula than there has been of politicians who creamed millions out of the PPE tender scandal….

  • During his last Covid address, the President proudly pointed to a photograph of the casualty ward of a hospital in Gauteng. It was empty, he claimed, because of the booze ban.
    As I understood the reasoning of the Great Coronavirus Council they were banning the sale of alcohol in order to decrease the number of trauma cases in order to open beds for Covid patients.
    So where were the Covid patients?

    • Now that is a very sharp observation. Indeed, where were they, and the many other non- alcohol related emergencies? Oh, they probably could not get to hospital due to the curfew.

  • Cele is laughably incompetent (the laughing is done by our criminals). So to save face, he has to strut and fake. This is the real ANC in inaction.

  • It is a given fact that there are trauma cases related to Alcohol abuse. Perhaps government should work out what it would cost to make additional beds available to only treat those cases and then weigh up the difference in the loss of tax revenue direct and indirect from the prohibition of Alcohol sales to the cost thereof.
    Let alone the loss of income to citizens employed in the Alcohol industry..

  • Agree with the beach comments.
    Regarding alcohol ban, the question is does it reduce COVID morbidity and mortality. A blanket ban is a complete over reaction.
    Ivermectin comment is strangely out of place. Apparently at least 100 million people have been treated safely with the drug. i

  • A bit of research on Ivermectin would go a long way.
    So far my estimate is it’s a true wonder drug, donated to humanity by its developers.

  • Every day there are two SAPS vans and 4 -6 very overweight SAPS officers blocking access to Scottburgh beach.
    At the same time, directly across the road from Scottburgh SAPS and Magistrates Court, is the Post Office, where hundreds of people queue daily, with hardly a mask in sight, no social distancing either… all of 50 mtrs away, right under their noses, but no SAPS action here. Methinks they are fiercely targeting Minorities and don’t give a hoot how blatant it is.

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