Permit rage - tourist in court

2011-12-20 22:25

Johannesburg - A tourist was arrested on Tuesday morning amid holidaymakers' protests against a new permit system regulating vehicle access onto northern KwaZulu-Natal's popular beach, Sodwana Bay.

He appeared in the Ubombo Magistrate's Court later on Tuesday charged with the theft of a permit book at an isiMangaliso Wetland National Park office, said Terri Catsis, commercial director of the park, which is a Unesco Heritage Site.

Further charges were being processed against other holidaymakers following the assault of park staff on Monday, she said.

Tempers flared a number of times over the weekend and early in the week over the issuing of permits to allow vehicles on to the beach.

The introduction of a permit system, allowing access to 200 vehicles a day in line with the law, saw holidaymakers blockade the beach entrance in protest on Sunday and harass park staff early this week.

"On Monday, some people who had been involved in blockading the access to the beach on Sunday became unruly and started inciting people to rock vehicles. Staff were also assaulted," she said.

Catsis said 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.

"There has been a huge increase in development of accommodation outside the park, which has brought about added pressure [to the beaches]," she said.

Facilities in the park were fully booked through to January.

Commenting on the unruliness, Catsis said: "I understand people's frustrations, but nothing can warrant such lawless behaviour."

- SAPA
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