Beach closures: Government lashed in court papers over 'draconian' regulations for Garden Route

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A court application lodged by Afriforum and the Great Brak River Business Forum, argues that the regulations infringe on local business owners’ rights.
A court application lodged by Afriforum and the Great Brak River Business Forum, argues that the regulations infringe on local business owners’ rights.
  • A court application to have Garden Route beaches reopened has called the restrictions "draconian".
  • The restrictions could irrevocably damage the local economy, which relies on seasonal holiday makers, affected parties argue.
  • The Garden Route municipality is lobbying to have restrictions removed, or reduced to match those in KwaZulu-Natal.

Regulations to close Garden Route beaches are "draconian" and unlawful, local business owners will argue in court.

A court application lodged by AfriForum and the Great Brak River Business Forum, argues that the regulations infringe on local business owners' rights.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday the closure of certain beaches and public parks over the festive season due to Covid-19. The closure applied to all beaches in the Eastern Cape and Garden Route, while, in KwaZulu-Natal, beaches would be closed on what are "traditionally the busiest days of the season".

READ | Beach closures: Ramaphosa, Dlamini-Zuma face fight over shutting Garden Route beaches

In a notice of motion filed in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday, the business forum and AfriForum stated their intention to have the amended Covid-19 Regulations 69(12)(a), (b), (c) and (d) declared unconstitutional.

Beaches a 'pillar of the tourism industry'

In his founding affidavit, Great Brak River Business Forum chairperson Willem de Wet said Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma failed to provide substantiating reasons for her decision to close beaches, as well as the evidence it was based on.

The lockdown already had a devastating impact on the economy and limiting economic and tourism activity in the Garden Route would likely exacerbate this, De Wet argued.

"The tourism, travel and accommodation industry in the Garden Route is enormously dependent upon the peak tourist season, namely December festive season, each year to provide the financial boon that is required to sustain those businesses through the rest of the year," he said.

The tourism industry is dependent on visitors' enjoyment of the local beaches and removing this "main pillar of the tourism industry" was likely to hit the local economy hard.

"Another feature of the tourism industry in the Garden Route Districts is the seasonality of such socio-economic activity. This creates a situation in which the industry is almost entirely reliant and dependent upon the sharp increase in business and income during the end of year holiday period," he said.

'Decision arbitrary and irrational'

De Wet referenced some guesthouses which generated 25% of annual income in the month of December and others which had already seen a 40% cancellation in bookings for the festive season.

Garden Route municipality mayor Memory Booysen said the economic effects of the beach closures were already felt, with businesses experiencing cancellations "within hours" of the announcement that beaches would be closed.

He said:

"Many businesses have already scaled back and this affects seasonal job creation. Some of the SMEs are never going to recover - this has taken the bottom out of our economy."

Booysen said the municipality petitioned to have the closures scrapped, or to be given the same restrictions as KwaZulu-Natal.

"We have longer and wider beaches than in KwaZulu-Natal, which will make social distancing easier to enforce," he said.

"We didn't expect to have the beaches closed. We're ready to deal with visitors and our healthcare facilities are ready. We're open for any eventuality."

In a lawyer's letter to Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma, the DA urgently requested the reasons for the decision to impose a blanket closure for the Garden Route, as opposed to a nuanced approach for KZN. A response was requested by 17:00 on Wednesday. Court action could follow, should a response not be provided.

De Wet believed that the rights of local businesspeople and their employees were infringed upon by the beach closures.

"The applicants and persons or entities who have an interest in the decision to impose closures of beaches in the Garden Route District, have been subjected to a draconian and inconsiderate process, which has overlooked and ignored less restrictive means that ought first to have been considered by the Cogta Minister," he said.

"The failure by Cogta Minister and the government to have done so, further tarnishes the legality and lawfulness of the decision, and renders the decision arbitrary and irrational."

He added that safety measures such as sanitation and social distancing were already practiced in the area and had proven effective in reducing the spread of the virus.

"Should the regulations in issue not be declared unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid, and be set aside, the consequence of the state of disaster will also result in the closure of many companies and business entities, many of which are small or medium enterprises, local entrepreneurial endeavours, previously disadvantaged operations, all of whom contribute, in their small part, to the fiscus of this country," he said.

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