Garden Route beach closures: DA goes to court in bid to overturn govt's lockdown decision

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  • The DA approached the Western Cape High Court to challenge government's closure of beaches in the Garden Route and restrictions on beaches in the Western Cape.
  • The party will ask the court to declare the regulations unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid.
  • This after President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma failed to provide the DA with reasons for the restrictions.

The DA on Thursday filed court papers in the Western Cape High Court challenging national government's decision to close the beaches in the Garden Route District for the entire festive season.

The party previously gave President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma a deadline of 17:00 on Wednesday to provide reasons for the closure of the Garden Route's beaches from 16 December to 3 January.

At Ramaphosa's request, it extended the deadline to 10:00 on Thursday.

"Both the president and Minister Dlamini-Zuma have failed to respond by the extended hour," said DA leader John Steenhuisen in a statement.

"The fact that national government has requested additional time to prepare a response to our letter requesting reasons for the decision to close the Garden Route's beaches, only demonstrates that there were none to begin with. It would seem that any reasons now provided would be ex post facto manufactured."

Steenhuisen said the DA and the party's coastal municipalities had "fought vehemently" against beach closures, as such a regulation was not in line with scientific evidence from medical experts and impossible to enforce.

"This regulation is also proving to be the final nail in the coffin for the Garden Route's coastal economies which are nearing total collapse," said Steenhuisen.

In its court application, the DA asked the Western Cape High Court to declare the regulations closing the Garden Route's beaches and limiting the time the public can access beaches in the rest of the Western Cape unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid.

"The DA emphasises that it supports rational, reasonable and lawful measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the Covid-19 virus," reads Steenhuisen's affidavit.

"The affidavit is brought not to undermine government's response to the pandemic, but rather to assert the rule of law in a time of emergency and crisis and to ensure that measures adopted are lawful and rational."

Steenhuisen provided six grounds why the DA believed the regulations were unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid. 

The DA's grounds for opposing the closure of the Garden Route's beaches and restrictions on Western Cape beaches:

  • The blanket closure violates the right to freedom of movement and it violates the right of people in the tourism industry to choose and practice their occupation and trade.
  • The blanket closure and the time restrictions are not necessary in terms of the purposes of the Disaster Management Act, which allows the minister to make the regulations. These are: assisting and protecting the public, providing relief to the public, protecting property, preventing disruption, dealing with the destructive and other effects of the disaster.
  • The decision to close the Garden Route's beaches appears to have been made without giving the affected stakeholders adequate notice or an opportunity to comment.
  • The blanket closure is an irrational and arbitrary measure to address the spread of the virus. "Visiting a beach poses a lower risk of transmission than other activities, especially those held indoors which are still permitted by the regulation," stated Steenhuisen.
  • The restrictions on beaches in the Western Cape will result in more people visiting other spaces at the same time, which is counter-productive and irrational.
  • The blanket closure and restrictions interfere with local governments' executive authority and the right to administer beaches.

In his statement, Steenhuisen said business in the Garden Route's hospitality industry was already reporting "devastating and life-threatening losses to the value of hundreds of millions of rands".   

"This is precisely why we are urgently approaching the courts to expedite the overturning of this decision as the livelihoods of thousands currently hang in the balance," he said.

"In the South African context, poverty can be far deadlier than the coronavirus, and in this instance, national government is risking the livelihoods of thousands of South Africans unnecessarily. We cannot and will not allow this to happen."

Steenhuisen expected that the DA's case would be heard as early as Monday.

Meanwhile, DA MP and spokesperson on police Andrew Whitfield said he would lay a complaint with Parliament's Ethics Committee against Police Minister Bheki Cele "after he appeared to issue unlawful operational instructions" to the police to shut down a film shoot at Camps Bay beach on Wednesday.

Ramaphosa's spokesperson Tyrone Seale was aware that the DA filed court papers. "We will deal with this through the legal process," he said.

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