Clubs to remain closed under lockdown level 1, or not?
By Fadia Arnold
As many of you know by now, I am a labour lawyer by trade, but I secretly have a passion for journalism and sometimes, like this time, the two intertwine. I decided last weekend that I would go undercover as an ‘investigative journalist’ to observe whether night clubs are adhering to lockdown rules and if not, do the night club owners suffer any consequences?
Many club owners have come to me with the issue of their loss of income and inability to pay staff due to not being able to open their clubs as per the regulations which at this time still state nightclubs are to remain closed, but what is bothering them even further is that some night clubs are remaining open and breaking the law suffering zero consequences. I found this hard to believe, so I decided to see things for myself.
My boyfriend and I enthusiastically hit up Long Street in Cape Town, famous for its night life. We enjoyed a few games of pool at Stones Long Street, who had been adhering to Covid-19 health and safety regulations and was rather empty in any event. After a couple of games, just like that, it was almost curfew time, where restaurants, bars and the like needed to vacate the public from its premises by 10:45pm so it’s staff can clean up and be home themselves prior to midnight curfew. We left walking to our car and noticed that some nightclubs were in fact open.
My legal compass went into high alert and I decided, with my reluctant boyfriend having no say in the matter, to enter a club for pure journalistic reasons as I weekly for the past year have had my Covid-19 written work published frequently and I have reported on the exclusive “Covid diaries” on GoodHope FM with the Big Breakfast Show.
Hence, in the interest of the law of course, and my amateur journalism quest, my boyfriend and I entered a well-known Long Street Club around 10:40pm. The nightclub was in my opinion masquerading as a bar/restaurant and should have closed completely at that time and should have had the public vacate by 10:45pm.
I spoke to the bouncer and person collecting the fee to enter, who both stated to us that we can enter for 15 minutes, but then “the club” will be closing due to Covid-19 regulations. I almost said – “but under the regulations you should not be open at all”, but then they would, as they say in popular culture, have ‘gated me’ and I would not have gotten the full and true story.
Cut to my very uncomfortable boyfriend and I entering the club approximately around 10:40pm intending to leave in 15 minutes as we were told unequivocally the club would shut down in 15 minutes.
We walked into what looked like New Year’s Eve 1999. People falling all over other, dancing on top of each other, smoking cannabis openly, multiple people using the same shisha pipe, zero masks and sanitizers nowhere to be seen inside the club (well, I didn’t see any). We badly wanted to leave but I had gone inside for a reason, I felt a duty as a lawyer and officer of the Court to note whether the law had been broken and further, would there be any consequences?
My boyfriend and I stayed close to each other, observing everything, and a couple of minutes later we realised this club was not in fact closing before 11pm. We waited around, thinking maybe they would close in 5 minutes and the lights would switch on whilst the music shuts down. That didn’t happen and we began to panic as we needed to be home before curfew, being law abiding citizens and all.
However, as we attempted to leave, we were told by the bouncers and what appeared to be management that we could not leave the club, that we all needed to keep silent, stand still, and wait because SAPS (the South African Police Service) was outside and usually, we were told, that SAPS would leave after a few minutes and then we could all vacate. The club doors were locked. I felt like I was in a bad action movie that was not going to end well. I started recording these events on my phone only to be yelled at by another patron ‘would you like your phone to be stolen, put it away!’
Eventually, after what seemed like a lifetime and possible a hostage situation, the club doors opened at around 11:30pm and we ran out to our car and got home just in the nick of time for curfew.
We did notice SAPS patrolling and moving along throughout Long Street as we left, but I saw no SAPS official outside of a car, checking in on the clubs.
The law is being broken, it seems there are no consequences for clubs that are remaining open and discriminatory treatment between clubs that have shut down according to law, and clubs that somehow are staying afloat as if there never was nor presently is a deathly pandemic.
Fadia Arnold is an Attorney at Arnold Law Legal Consultancy