GARDEN ROUTE NEWS - Several local authorities, the DA and civic organisations are making a giant effort to re-open the beaches in the Garden Route, amid deep concern about the effects of the closure on the economy.
Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement on Monday evening that all the area's beaches will be closed until 3 January, caught thousands of holiday makers and businesses unawares.
Many tourists are already here and others are en route to enjoy the districts golden beaches and blue sea. The Eastern Cape beaches are also closed for the festive season, while it was generally expected that beaches would only be closed on public holidays, as is the case in KwaZulu-Natal.
The fact that the announcement only came on the 14th is suspect, seeing that the national minister of health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, paid a visit to George to evaluate the situation 10 days earlier, on 4 December.
Civil rights organisation AfriForum yesterday introduced an urgent motion in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to have the Covid-19 regulation that applies to the countrywide beach closures, declared unconstitutional.
According to AfriForum the limiting of access to beaches, that are public property, amounts to the restriction of a basic human right.
The DA gave national government until yesterday afternoon to make an about turn, failing which the party would also approach the court.
Both Garden Route Mayor Memory Booysen and George Mayor Leon van Wyk appealed to government to recall the closure.
In his letter to the president dated 16 December, van Wyk states that while the infection statistic in the Garden Route and Kwazulu-Natal are similar, our beaches are completely shut down, while closure of KZN beaches only apply to public holidays. He demanded reasons for this. He also referred to the financial implications.
"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 customers to pay their consumer accounts and thereby harm the financial sustainability of the municipality," he writes.
Van Wyk told George Herald that the municipality does not have the capacity to police all beaches, as the Wilderness coastline alone stretches acroos 3km.
Head of disaster management in the Garden Route, Gerhard Otto approached the National Prosecuting authority for clarity about the legal implications for people who do go to the beach. "The NPA told me on Tuesday that it is not a misdemeanor to be on the beach." But the national minister of police, Bheki Cele maintains that offenders will be prosecuted or receive a fine.
Roleplayers in the hospitality confirmed on Wednesday that they have already had a number of cancellations - another nail in the coffin of the struggling economy.
Andrew Rogers, president of Skål International Garden Route, said the closure will have a devastating impact and that it will force visitors to have fun at venues where social distance and adequate ventilation can not be guaranteed.
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