Home South African Minister Dlamini Zuma defends beach closures

Minister Dlamini Zuma defends beach closures

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Legal bid to declare the newly promulgated Covid-19 regulations relating to the closing of beaches unconstitutional

Residents and visitors protested at the Garden Route town of Plettenberg Bay on Sunday, calling for the reopening of the beaches in the area. The matter is being argued in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria. Picture: David Ritchie / African News Agency (ANA)

WHILE accepting that the closure of some of the country’s beaches will have an economic impact on tourism, it is only a temporary measure and not an issue which the courts are equipped to deal with by way of urgent proceedings.

This is according to Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who is opposing an application in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria regarding the closure of some of the country’s beaches in the wake of the Covid-19 second wave. The matter will be be heard on Tuesday.

The Great Brak Business Forum and AfriForum will ask the court to urgently overturn government’s beach closures, especially along the Garden Route. The order, however, will also impact on the closure of KwaZulu-Natal beaches on certain days, as well as the closure of beaches in the Eastern Cape.

The legal bid is to declare the newly promulgated Covid-19 regulations relating to the closing of the beaches unconstitutional.

This regulation stipulates, among others, that all beaches in the Eastern Cape, as well as along the Garden Route, will be closed from December 16 to January 3. It also made provision for all beaches in KwaZulu-Natal to be closed on December 16, 25, 26 and 31, as well as from January 1 to 3.

In her opposing affidavit, Dlamini Zuma said the second wave of Covid-19 was exacerbated by the festive season, and these emergency measures were vital in a bid to try and curb the spread of the virus.

“These are not normal times … Adjustment must be made,” she said.

The minister pointed out that the beach restrictions were only temporary and that the limitation to access to beaches should not be seen in isolation.

She said the amended disaster management regulations also curbed gathering indoors as well as outdoors.

The minister said the complaints by the applicants that these amended regulations were made without consulting the relevant parties was baseless as the Disaster Management Act did not call for public participation. She only needed to consult with the Cabinet, which she did.

The minister further said the number of Covid-19 positive cases had soared lately in the wake of the second wave, which forced the government to take measures, especially during this festive season, to try and curtail the spread.

Unless super-spreader events were curbed, hospitals would simply not cope, she said.

According to AfriForum, the limiting of access to beaches, that were public property, amounted to the restriction of a basic human right.

It will argue that the government can thus not have different regulations for different beaches.

The civil rights organisation agrees that mass gatherings on beaches must be prohibited, seeing that no social distancing is maintained during these gatherings. But it said that it was unconstitutional and discriminatory to close certain beaches given the enormous economic impact that it would have on especially coastal towns that had suffered the whole year due to the lockdown regulations.

Dlamini Zuma meanwhile said the applicants’ focus in these proceedings was narrow. “Government’s focus has to be much higher. It has a duty to all South Africans to create balance and to support the economy as best as we can, while saving lives …

“A critical aspect of this is to ensure that our health care system remains functional and effective.”

The minister said it was for these reasons that the government had to take a callous approach. It was a difficult exercise, she said, to balance all the considerations.

Beaches, she said, were social gathering places where people interacted, which in turn increased the risk of transmission.

She said that although South Africa was at lockdown alert Level 1, certain adjustments must be made from time to time in a bid to try and save lives amid the pandemic.