Sodwana beach war breaks out

2011-12-20 00:00

DURBAN — Tempers flared this weekend at Sodwana in the St Lucia nature heritage site as holidaymakers blocked a road to the park for at least six hours to protest against a new measure that allows parking on the beach.

After the protest on Sunday the iSimangaliso park authority that administers the site laid several charges in terms of the Protected Areas Act with the police. Terri Castis, commercial director of iSimangaliso, said a charge of assault was also laid against a tourist. He allegedly had an argument with a member of staff who handed out parking permits to holidaymakers who had booked space in the park.

Castis said no mercy would be shown to people who put other visitors in danger.

Sunday’s protest, which saw some 50 people blocking the access road from 7 am to 1 pm, prevented diving operators from taking their boats and customers to the popular diving spot. The blockade also slowed arrivals and departures of tourists.

A local resident, who wants to remain anonymous, said the prevailing attitude of the protesters was one of: “If we cannot park on the beach, then no one goes to the beach.”

The protesters were angered by a measure introduced this month that allows only people with permits to park on the beach.

Castis said iSimangaliso allowed only 200 vehicles on the beach and it decided in April to change to a permit system to prevent the long queues that had resulted under the previous system. Out-of-park visitors can park on a large parking area away from the beach.

However, another anonymous resident told Beeld that visitors did not want to use this parking area as it was “often occupied by taxis full of drunk people who park and party there”.

The new parking measure also caused some visitors who had booked holidays in the park to demand their deposits back.

They complained about the long queues at the gate in the morning. Some turned back when they heard they could no longer park on the beach.

Yesterday about half of the 200 beach parking permits were handed out at a soccer field outside the park and the remaining permits were made available to visitors in the park.

Castis said the nub of the problem was that increased accommodation outside the park attracted more people to the area than what the park could handle.

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