The City of Cape Town is investigating allegations that a private security company is denying beachgoers night access to Clifton Fourth Beach in a move to "lock down" the beach over the busy holiday period.
"We learnt of this through the complaints today and will deal with it," safety and security mayoral committee member JP Smith said in a WhatsApped response to the controversy on Monday.
This was after word started going around that a private company was telling people enjoying the beach to pack up and go home at around 20:00, or sunset.
Fourth Beach is part of a chain of popular boulder-strewn beaches on the Atlantic Seaboard, with multimillion-rand houses with sweeping views nearby.
Smith said there is no official closing time for the popular spot.
Regulations do apply at the beach, but can only be enforced by the government's own law enforcement authorities.
He had asked the City's head of safety, Richard Bosman, to look into whether a private security company was overstepping its mark at Clifton Fourth Beach.
He said that it was not the first time he had received complaints about the conduct of private security companies hired by communities, and not just around beaches. He said there had been similar complaints in the suburb of Lansdowne.
Politician and family told to leave
One of those asked to leave the beach was Western Cape ANC secretary Faiez Jacobs who had gone for some rare family time after a day of handing out food parcels to the poor.
He said that at around sunset the guards cleared the beach in about 15 minutes.
He asked why, and was told it was because of by-laws.
He said the guards acted as though they had authority over the public beach, and this worried him.
"They can't privatise beaches," said Jacobs.
Jacobs said it was his understanding that only the South African Police Service (SAPS), government law enforcement and other government security agencies have the authority to clear beaches, not a private company.
He added that no one was causing a disturbance related to alcohol or noise at the time they were told to leave the beach.
The company named in the complaints about closing the beach to members of the public is PPA Security.
Beach closed for 'hygiene, health and safety'
In a post on social app Neighbourly, it was announced on December 18 that PPA had been appointed as a "neighbourhood partner" for security in the area and that the "lock down of Clifton" would begin. It said PPA had had successes regarding arrests of alleged drug dealers and car thieves in the area.
In response to questions, Chris Diedericks from PPA said the statement that the company had been closing the beach was not correct."This statement is not true and far from correct, we render personal security for some of the residents in Clifton and Bantry Bay, the only time we assist on the beach is with law enforcement and SAPS under their instruction," he said.
"Law enforcement has been fantastic in controlling the beaches, enforcing by-laws, not allowing alcohol, loud music and aggressive behaviour recently. We assist them when and where we can.
"The beaches are being closed for hygiene, health and safety reasons."
Ward councillor Shayne Ramsay said she could not comment because she had resigned recently. Her position will be filled again in a by-election expected in February.