GARDEN ROUTE NEWS - George Mayor Leon van Wyk has directed a strong appeal to President Cyril Ramaphosa to reopen the Garden Route beaches in a letter Van Wyk sent yesterday.
In the letter he asks for the reasons underlying the decision to impose a blanket closure of the beaches in the Garden Route during the festive period, as opposed to the more nuanced approach adopted in KwaZulu-Natal.
He said he has been informed that the current Covid-19 statistics for KwaZulu-Natal and the Garden Route are similar, so the different approach does not make sense.
Read Van Wyk's letter below:
Dear Honourable President Ramaphosa and Honourable Minister Dlamini-Zuma,
CLOSURE OF BEACHES IN GARDEN ROUTE DISTRICT
1. I am the Executive Mayor of George Municipality.
2. In terms of the Amended Regulations published on 15 December 2020 in the Government Gazette (No 1346 in GG 43997), pursuant to section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002, various beaches around the country have been closed either for the entire period of the festive season or for a limited number of days on which, traditionally, many people visit the beach. Beaches within the George Municipality in the Garden Route District in the Western Cape are closed to the public from 16 December 2020 until 3 January 2021 (Regulations 69(12)(b), 84(12)(b) and amended Table 4), whereas beaches in KwaZulu-Natal are closed to the public only on 16, 25, 26 and 31 December 2020 and 1, 2 and 3 January 2021 (Regulations 69(12)(c), 84(12)(c) and amended Table 4).
3. I am informed that the current Covid-19 statistics for KwaZulu-Natal and the Garden Route are similar. Notwithstanding the similarity in the statistics, the closure of beaches in KwaZulu-Natal is far more limited, and provincial and local government officials have been entrusted to exercise their powers to close various beaches if large crowds gather without following social distancing rules. By contrast, beaches along the entire Garden Route district are closed for the full period.
4. I would greatly appreciate the reasons underlying your decision to impose a blanket closure of the beaches in the Garden Route District during the festive period, as opposed to the more nuanced approach adopted in KwaZulu-Natal.
5. It is my view that the decision to impose a blanket closure of beaches in the Garden Route for a period of two-and-a-half weeks and for the entire district (as opposed to a more nuanced approach where beaches are closed only on certain days):
- violates the right to freedom of movement, is irrational and otherwise unconstitutional;
- will have a detrimental impact on many businesses in the Garden Route; and
- interferes with the constitutional authority and right of the affected local governments to regulate the use of beaches and public spaces within their area of jurisdiction in terms of section 156(1) read with Part B of Schedule 5 of the Constitution.
6. I also record that it has been reported that the Government's scientific advisors do not support the closure of beaches. Furthermore, it is also generally accepted that being in the sun and outside, is less risky than being in confined places, at alternative places of recreation which have not been shuttered.
7. I further record that by way of example the George Municipality's Wilderness main beach area extends over at least three kilometres with at least ten public entry points thereby providing ample opportunity for social distancing. During periods of windy, cloudy or inclement weather, beachcombers invariably seek other attractions including visits to Malls where social distancing may not be as favourable as on beaches. The impact of the beach closures has resulted in cancellations of accommodation and of travel arrangements that will have a considerable negative effect on the local and district economy as many small and micro businesses generate between 25% and 35% of their annual turnover over the five to six week peak December-January holiday period. It is this turnover that often sustains their overheads over the calendar year.
8. I wish to bring to your attention that the negative financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on George Municipality since March 2020 already amounts to the order of R200 million in comparison to an operational budget for 2020/21 of R2,4 billion. The closure of beaches will increase the negative financial effects for the Municipality and considerably weaken the ability of business and individual customers to pay their consumer accounts and thereby harm the financial sustainability of the Municipality.
9. As Executive Mayor, I acknowledge the need to take appropriate measures to reduce the risk of the spread of the virus - a more nuanced approach will also achieve that goal, but not breach constitutional rights and not cause further harm to businesses, their employees and citizens generally who already find themselves more vulnerable since the start of this pandemic.
10. I would therefore greatly appreciate receiving the reasons for your decision on an urgent basis.
Alderman Leon van Wyk
Executive Mayor George Municipality
Read more about loopholes in the beach regulations and how the authorities, civic organisations and the DA are fighting the beach closure in the George Herald tomorrow. Any updates about the closure will be posted online.
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