Garden Route authorities under fire for lax approach to Covid-19 crisis
Cape Town - Tensions are rising along the Garden Route after Western Cape police commissioner Yolisa Matakata's office received a complaint that the SAPS and the George and Knysna municipalities had been lax in overseeing disaster regulations, especially at beaches.
The probe comes as the Western Cape High Court on Monday reserved judgment in the DA's pursuit to overturn regulations to close beaches in the Garden Route district, arguing economic pressure on businesses and a lack of scientific evidence that beach gatherings contribute to the virus spreading.
Virgil Gericke, leader of the Plaaslike Besorgde Inwoners (PBI), lodged a complaint alleging that people were “swimming as per normal” at beaches in Knysna and George at the weekend.
In the complaint Virgil said: “I am a resident of George in the Garden Route. In areas such as Herolds Bay, Leentjiesklip and the Knysna Waterfront, people were swimming as normal. This was done in full view of officers of the law.”
Speaking to the Cape Times on Monday, Gericke said after noticing many complaints on Facebook that people were on the beaches, he went to investigate and found people swimming.
“We have been told that law enforcement only enforces by-laws at beaches. The key question is, why did law enforcement then not inform the SAPS about people swimming at the beaches?
“The SAPS has the authority to deal with the enforcement of the disaster regulations and to prohibit people from accessing the beaches. We are also worried about the allegation that the SAPS didn't act to remove people from the Leentjiesklip beach. The police must act in case there's a violation of any laws. This is a very serious pandemic and all steps should be taken to combat the virus,” he said.
Independent Civic Organisation of SA (Icosa) leader, Dawid Kamfer, echoed Gericke's comment, adding that people were arrogant in thinking they can swim.
“It looks like we are back in apartheid where white people can go and swim and our people are sitting at home. What they must understand is that people are dying every minute from Covid-19. We see on TV and we see in the newspapers, all beaches must be closed. There's no confusion about that. I was on one beach and one of the ladies said I'm paying tax so they cannot tell me what to do,” Kamfer said.
George Municipality spokesperson Athane Scholtz said police were best placed to comment as local law enforcement were responsible for “only municipal by-laws such as alcohol on the beach”.
“The George Municipality cannot comment on people being on the beaches as it is not the mandate of the municipality to enforce national laws – only municipal by-laws such as alcohol on the beach.
“There are municipal law enforcement officers at the entrances to the beaches where those who choose to go to the beach are searched for alcohol, firearms and other illegal items – which are confiscated – or persons refused access because of relevant by-laws they overstepped. There are also lifesavers on the beach acting on the same principle,” said Scholtz.
Knysna municipal spokesperson Nwabisa Pondoyi referred questions to the SAPS, saying: “The municipality has no knowledge of the allegations contained herein and the operations of the SAPS fall within their operational mandate.
“Ours, through our law enforcement officers, is to provide support and convey the regulations to the public.”
Police spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa said on Monday that a complaint was lodged with the provincial commissioner by a member of the public, and the commissioner responded to it by first determining the authenticity of the claims.
She did not comment on the details of the probe, saying only: “How the complaint was finalised is a matter between the complainant and the SAPS.
“It is worth noting that the SAPS in the Western Cape is busy executing its safer festive season programme which includes the policing of beaches and other public places, taking into account the Covid-19 regulations.
“The SAPS forces, with others within law enforcement, are hard at work ensuring that all residents of the Western Cape and visitors are and feel safe,” Potelwa said.
DA MP Siviwe Gwarube said on Monday of the court case: “Please note that the Western Cape High Court considered arguments by the DA to have beaches in the Southern Cape (reopened).
“The judgment was reserved. We remain confident that the judgment will be handed down in the next two days.”
Gwarube said they were of the view that restrictions would kill the tourism industry in the area, resulting in job losses.
“Ours is a fight to save lives and livelihoods. Millions of South Africans join the unemployment numbers every quarter.
“We cannot allow this to happen to more people from this region when measures can be placed to suppress the spread of the virus while keeping the beaches open.”