Who do the beaches really belong to?

Who do the beaches really belong to?

Brett Herron

Member of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament for GOOD and Secretary- General of GOOD.

In August 1989, Archbishop Desmond Tutu led hundreds of South Africans, in defiance of apartheid laws, to a beach picnic on a “whites only” beach in Cape Town.  The apartheid government used rubber whips, tear gas, dogs, guns and low-flying helicopters to disperse the black picnickers.

At the time, Tutu is reported to have remarked that he thought it was “incredible that the government is prepared to use arms on people who wish to have a picnic.”

For nearly five decades, from 1953 to 1990, apartheid South Africa managed public access to everything based on race.  The Separate Amenities Act was part of a suite of laws referred to, at the time, as petty apartheid.

These laws were not petty. They were degrading, dehumanising and obsessive about how South Africans lived their everyday-lives. It was a crime for a black South African to access, and bathe at, a beach reserved for white South Africans.  This was outrageous, hurtful and obsessive petty interference in ordinary everyday activities like enjoying a day at the beach.  A public amenity that belongs to us all.

A year after the brutal response to the Arch’s beach picnic the Separate Amenities Act was repealed. But for many the brutal, and dehumanising experience, of being denied access to a beach was reawakened nearly 30 years later. In December 2018 a private security company, acting in collusion with the City of Cape Town’s Law Enforcement, removed people who were similarly enjoying a sunset picnic on a formerly “whites only” beach in Clifton.

Eight months later the City has published a draft Coastal By-Law, for public comment, that reads like an apartheid piece of legislation.  It doesn’t use racial classification to identify who it will manage on our beaches but it doesn’t need to.  Racial profiling is alive and well in South Africa and black South

Africans can still be removed from our beaches in December 2018 for no legitimate reason.

The City will, and has already tried to, justify the Coastal By-Law by arguing that the Integrated Coastal Management Act requires it.  That act, however, seeks to protect our beautiful and extensive coastal environment for future generations and the By-Law is meant to focus on the regulation of development, use and enjoyment of our coastline for conservation purposes.

The By-Law is draconian, excessive and petty.  Again, petty may appear diminishing and thus nothing to worry about but it is the very essence of the pettiness that makes this by-law dangerous and I would argue unconstitutional.

Instead of encouraging responsible use and enjoyment of our beaches, in a way that protects the coastal environment from degradation, the by-law introduces extraneous laws to regulate our access and conduct. It gives law-enforcement officers wide and excessive powers to deny anyone access to the beach or to order you to leave.

The by-law will allow the city to

  • Prevent access to beaches;

  • Determine what times the public could access a beach;

  • Charge a fee for access,

  • Ban traders & buskers;

The by-law even attempts to police language.  Section 16(1)(h) says “no person may in the coastal zone…use foul or indecent language”.  “Foul” and “indecent” is not defined.  My “damn” could be your “fuck”.  The law enforcement will no doubt decide.

In the section seeking to control “undesirable conduct” 16 (1) (f) states that “no person may … behave in an improper, indecent, unruly, violent or anti-social manner or cause a disturbance.”  Again, these subjective terms are not defined.  Law enforcement will be left to decide who is decent, who is proper and who is socially acceptable to remain in an area.

The introduction of arbitrary access control, and the express inclusion of policing powers that already exist in our criminal law system, looks like, reads like and feels like the reintroduction of the laws that Archbishop Tutu, and so many others. fought against.

Members of the public are invited to submit their comments on the draft bylaw by email to coastal.bylaw@capetown.gov.za before the 2 nd September 2019. More details are available on the City’s website.