Beach traffic at Sodwana Bay

Authorities at KwaZulu-Natal's popular resort, Sodwana Bay, have evicted eight holidaymakers involved in unruly protests against a new permit system regulating vehicle access on the beach.

Criminal charges were also being investigated against the tourists, said Terri Catsis, commercial director of the isiMangaliso Wetland National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site into which Sodwana Bay falls.

The tourists were from Mpumalanga, North West and Gauteng. A further charge of assault was being explored against a holidaymaker who assaulted one of Catsis's staff.

“The same staff member was also assaulted in a similar incident in April. Two holidaymakers from Mpumalanga were convicted for it. They received heavy fines and one of them was given the option of a prison sentence,” Catsis said.

The worker who was assaulted was not injured “but was terribly shattered to say the least”.

On Tuesday another holidaymaker, from Secunda, appeared in the Ubombo Magistrate's Court after being arrested that morning for stealing the permit book from the park office.

Holidaymakers' tempers flared a number of times over the weekend and early this week. The introduction of a permit system, allowing access to only 200 vehicles a day in line with the law, saw them blockade the beach entrance in protest on Sunday and harass park staff early this week.

The permits had to be implemented when the current one-in, one-out system led to huge congestion at the beach entrance. This annoyed holidaymakers confused by the inconsistency of the times and places where they could collect their permits, one resort owner from outside the park said.

Catsis said when people first applied for permits, there was once again huge congestion.

“We received feedback from people that it needed to be made easier, so we changed the system. Unfortunately the communication that went out did not get around the following morning and people went to the wrong places.”

By Tuesday afternoon things were back to normal and people were receiving permits according to plan, with 100 reserved for tourists accommodated within the park, and 100 for day visitors, many of whom stayed at resorts outside the park.

The regulation on the number of vehicles allowed on beaches had been in effect for around 10 years, and was contained in the National Environment Management Act 1998, that banned beach driving, said Catsis.

Sodwana Bay was an integral part of the world heritage site.

“It is imperative that these coastal dunes, which are extremely sensitive, are protected for the enjoyment of all South Africans and for future generations.

“We cannot afford to allow the goose that lays the golden egg to be destroyed,” Catsis said.

There had been a huge increase in development of accommodation outside the park, which had added pressure to the beaches. Facilities in the park were fully booked through to January.

Commenting on the unruliness, Catsis said on Tuesday: “I understand people's frustrations, but nothing can warrant such lawless behaviour.” - Sapa