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

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  • The Garden Route mayor, the DA, as well as the local business forum and AfriForum, are challenging the government over the decision to close beaches in the Western Cape district. 
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the closure of certain beaches and public parks over the festive season due to Covid-19.  
  • The closure applies to all beaches in the Eastern Cape and Garden Route, while, in KZN, beaches will be closed on what are "traditionally the busiest days of the season".

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma face several challenges over the decision to close beaches in the Garden Route over the festive season due to Covid-19.

Objections have officially been raised by the Garden Route Municipality, the Great Brak Business Forum, lobby group AfriForum and the DA. They have all raised concerns about the economic impact of the decision and questioned its rationality and constitutionality.

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.

AfriForum said in a statement that limiting access to beaches, which were public property, amounted to the restriction of a basic human right.

The regulations state that all beaches in the Eastern Cape, as well as in the Garden Route in the Western Cape, will be closed from 16 December to 3 January 2021.  

Beaches in KwaZulu-Natal, however, will only be closed on the busiest days of the season, namely 16, 25, 26 and 31 December, as well as from 1 to 3 January.

A general view of a deserted popular holiday destination that is usually packed with tourists this time of year on December 07, 2020 in the Garden Route.

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.

The DA might go to court should it not get the reasons by the end of Wednesday.

The Garden Route's mayor, Memory Booysen, said they were asking for the same limited beach closures as Kwazulu-Natal.

He said, as it stood, the blanket closure of beaches was a "hard pill to swallow because we are a tourism destination and our economy is still struggling to recoup from the hard lockdown".

Booysen called an urgent Garden Route District Coordinating Forum on Tuesday morning, where he engaged with local municipal mayors, municipal managers, command centre cluster leads and stakeholders from SANParks. 

He also engaged with Cape Nature, National Prosecuting Authority, Western Cape health, SAPS and the Western Cape's department of local government to discuss the consequences of the announcement.

Booysen said: "Our plea and request/submission from this morning's engagement and, from the onset of the resurgence of Covid-19 in our region, has been for beaches in the Garden Route to remain open."

The submissions were presented at a Provincial Coordinating Forum (PCF). 

He also said the submissions would be communicated to the National Coronavirus Command Council, with the backing of the Western Cape government.

AfriForum agreed that mass gatherings on beaches must be prohibited, "seeing that no social distancing is maintained during these gatherings". 

But both AfriForum and the DA said that being outdoors and in the sun was healthier and less risky than being in confined places.

AfriForum's head of campaigns, Monique Taute, said: "The alternative is that people will turn to places like shopping centres and restaurants that hold a much higher risk of spreading the virus."  

National spokesperson for the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Lungi Mtshali, said they were not aware of any legal challenge.

Presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale was not immediately available for comment.

During his stern address to the nation on Monday night, Ramaphosa said that gatherings, "especially social gatherings and parties, are the largest source of outbreaks".

He said with many such gatherings, social distancing was not observed, crowded venues were not properly ventilated, hand sanitiser was not readily available, and people were not wearing masks, News24 reported.

The president also bemoaned that many people consume alcoholic drinks at "super-spreader events, with the result that people become less careful about taking measures to protect themselves and prevent infection".

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