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Emergency Hotline 0800 029 999
WhatsApp Support Line 060 012 3456
Provincial Hotline 021 928 4102
Bitou Municipality (Customer Care) 044 501 3174/5
Fire / Rescue 044 533 5000
Ambulance (Private) 072 054 9110
Law Enforcement 044 501 3240
Ambulance 10177
02 January 2021

BITOU MUNICIPALITY’S FURTHER STATEMENT ON THE AMENDED COVID-19 REGULATIONS

Issued on 2 January 2021

A statement was released by the Municipality on 30 December which needs further clarification. In addition, continuous comments (often based on incorrect information and/or incorrect perceptions) are being made by many people on social media that give rise to largely unnecessary misunderstandings and frustration. The purpose of this press release is to address some of those matters.

1. THE STATUS OF THE REGULATIONS

Amended Regulations under the Disaster Management Act were published on 29 December 2020. In accordance with these new Regulations the country has been placed under an Adjusted Alert Level 3. Certain stricter Regulations apply to areas that have been declared as so-called Hotspots. The Garden Route District, of which the Bitou Municipality is a part, has been declared as such a Hotspot. This means that the stricter Regulations apply to the whole of the Bitou Municipal area.

Some individuals or groups have suggested on the social media and elsewhere that the Regulations are unconstitutional (or similar arguments) and that they could (or should) therefore be ignored. These types of comments are incorrect and irresponsible. If people for whatever reason are of the opinion that the Regulations should be challenged it has to be done through due court process (as some bodies have attempted to do – but unsuccessfully so – during early December), and not by ‘ignoring’ them. Unless the Regulations are amended by the National Government or set aside by an appropriate court of law they apply in all respects and have to be treated and respected accordingly.

Suggestions have also been made that the Regulations are irrational, that they will not achieve the desired outcome, and so on. It is not for the Municipality to comment on the merits of the Regulations. Those debates have to occur in a different forum, but cannot in any manner effect the status or manner of implementation of the Regulations.

In similar vein comments have been made by many that the organs of state responsible for law enforcement should rather focus on the ‘real criminals’ and leave the people who do not comply with the Disaster Management Regulations alone (or similar sentiments). This is equally irresponsible. Those who do not adhere to the Regulations are breaking the law, and they are no different than any other ‘real criminals’ who also break the law. In addition, the whole purpose of the Disaster Management Regulations are to address the (inter) national disaster caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. By their very nature Regulations specifically promulgated under the Disaster Management Act trump all other matters for the period that the disaster applies, and this should be (and is) reflected in the resources used and priorities assigned to combat the disaster.

Lastly, the simple reality is that the Regulations, which apply to both public as well as private spaces and buildings, cannot be selectively applied. The authorities, and in particular the Municipality, has to lead by example. If the Municipality selectively chooses to not enforce the Regulations in some of the spaces/buildings under its control (e.g. the beaches and related areas), as some suggest should be done, it cannot expect any private land/building owners to apply (and comply with) those same Regulations.

2. THE ROLE OF THE MUNICIPALITY

Comments have been made by some that as the Regulations have been promulgated by the National Government they should be enforced by the law enforcement agencies of the National Government (primarily the South African Police Services), and not by the Municipality or by the Municipal Law Enforcement officials.

Once again, this is based on a misunderstanding of the relevant facts and obligations.

In the same manner that a shop owner has to ensure compliance with the Regulations on his/her premises the Municipality has an obligation to ensure that the Regulations are complied with on the land/buildings under its control – and this includes the beaches (and similar areas).

In addition to the above, the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act requires of all organs of state (which includes Municipalities as well as the National Government) to (inter alia) work together to address national priorities. There can be no doubt that the introduction of measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic is a national priority, and the Municipality has neither the luxury nor the moral justification to ‘just walk away’ and leave it to the National Government to address those matters.

The reality is that in cases of disasters the various authorities need and support each other to address and find solutions to the emergencies that occur. For example, if there is a serious flood situation in the Bitou Municipal area (as has happened during 2008) or extensive fires (as has occurred during 2017) the National Government does not say ‘it is a local problem, the Municipality has to address it’, but they provide assistance in the form of (for example) helicopters from the SADF to evacuate people or fight the fires, disaster relief funding to assist the Municipality and/or affected communities, and so on. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic the National Government has provided most Municipalities, including the Bitou Municipality, with substantial grant funding for Covid-19 related matters.

It should be self-evident from the above that the Municipality has a direct and unquestionable responsibility to assist the National Government in its endeavors to curb the spreading of the virus – and this includes implementation and enforcement of the Regulations.

It is also noteworthy that there is a good relationship of mutual support and assistance between the Municipality and the local offices of the South African Police Services. Bearing in mind the challenges that the South African Police Services already face in terms of available manpower and the like, it would have in any event have been irresponsible for the Municipality to not assist in the manner that it is doing.

3. THE ROLE OF THE MUNICIPAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS

The Law Enforcement officials of the Municipality have the unenviable responsibility to implement and enforce the Regulations. Law Enforcement is not an easy task under normal circumstances. In the current situation, where the Regulations that have to be enforced are not popular with many and are widely criticized, where people are tempted (or even prompted through the social media) to ‘push the boundaries’ of or to even break the law, where the ‘do’s and don’ts’ are incorrectly explained by some ‘experts’ on the social media, and where it has seemingly become fashionable for people in some circles to boast on the social media and elsewhere about how they have managed to break the law by surfing, swimming, or the like, it becomes nearly impossible.

The reality is that the Regulations are fairly unambiguous and not difficult to understand (or to be complied with). In cases of misunderstanding a simple question could be posed to the correct authority (the Municipality, Cape Nature or SANParks, as the case may be in the Bitou Municipal area) to provide clarity.

If this is done and the Regulations are complied with there will be little need for any actual law enforcement, for interaction between the Law Enforcement officials and the members of the public, and some (even most) of the law enforcement resources can then be re-deployed elsewhere.

Although it is clear that most people, however reluctantly or difficult it may be, at least attempt to adhere to the prescribed requirements, there is nevertheless (and unfortunately) still a large number of ‘chancers’ who are making life difficult for everybody else. It has to be made clear that if images of or articles about people who have been arrested or fined because they have not complied with the Regulations are widely distributed in the media to the detriment of the tourism image of Plettenberg Bay and its environs it is not the law enforcement agencies that should be blamed, but rather those individuals who have broken the law.

The senior officials of the Municipality are monitoring the conduct of the Law Enforcement personnel on a continuous basis. Indications are that the relationship between the Law Enforcement staff and the members of public is generally of a courteous, and often even friendly nature. It is acknowledged by the Municipality that there may well be exceptions where unacceptable behavior may have occurred. It is rather unfortunate that the trend appears for these isolated incidences to be widely reported in the social media, but not to the Customer Care line 044-5013175 or via email to CustomerCare@plett.gov.za.

The matters that are reported in this manner will be duly investigated. As an example, an incident that occurred along the Keurboomstrand beach on 26 December 2020 was extensively posted and commented upon in the social media, but was only formally reported to the Municipality on 28 December 2020. The Acting Municipal Manager contacted the complainant without any delay to made arrangements for an immediate hearing of the matter. She was not available on 29 December 2020, and it was then agreed that the hearing would occur on 31 December 2020. The complainant subsequently indicated that she will not be able to attend, and the only option is now for the Municipality to attempt to resolve the matter by email. The salient point is that the matter was not ‘swept under the carpet’, but received immediate attention.

4. FENCING OF PUBLIC AREAS

There has been much speculation in the social media about the fencing that is being undertaken around the town.

The Municipal Council and the Municipality as a whole is serious about the Covid-19 pandemic. Loved ones have been lost in this town, while the effects of staff absenteeism and low morale as a result of positive testing, enforced self-isolation and related matters have been and still are being felt. The safety of the staff, the residents and the visitors to the area are deemed to be of paramount importance to the Municipality.

It is for these reasons that the Council specifically considered measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic when the seasonal plan (which is normally aimed to ensure service delivery and related aspects during the holiday period) was discussed and considered on 27 November 2020.

The decision was taken that all events that were intended to occur on Municipal land, including some that have become traditions (such as the Carols by Candlelight on Central Beach, the New Year’s Eve Festival on the Kwanokuthula Sport Grounds and the New Year’s Eve Concert on Central Beach) had to be cancelled.

In addition, the Council agreed that it will be necessary to control numbers at the different beaches for what can only be regarded as an undetermined period (and not only for the current season), and that funding may therefore be made available for this purpose from the municipal budget. It is important to note that this resolution was taken in a Council meeting open to the public and nearly three weeks before anybody (including the Municipality) was aware of the ‘beach lockdown’ that came into operation on 16 December 2020. The decision to fence off certain areas was therefore not directly related to the ‘beach lock-down’.

When the specifications for the fencing were prepared aesthetic appearance (and the concomitant increased costs), although considered, were not the most important criteria. Functionality and cost-effectiveness were regarded as more important. Due supply chain procedures were followed before a contractor was appointed.

It would have served little purpose if the Central Beach area was fenced off only to find people accessing the same beach from Hobie Beach (and as result thereof Hobie Beach was also fenced off).

During the initial ‘beach lock-down’ that was introduced on 16 December 2020 large numbers of people flocked to the Keurbooms Estuary at Poortjies in an uncontrolled manner, and it became clear that the only manner to in future manage numbers in that area would be by means of fencing in appropriate places.

The Covid-19 pandemic will not ‘go away’ overnight. Through its actions (rather than through words only) the Bitou Municipality has shown that it is committed, willing to and able to control the number of people that may be allowed on the different beaches, and it is hoped that this will play a role and be recognized should a similar ‘beach lock-down’ be considered during the Easter holiday season.

5. BEACHES, FISHING, PARKS AND RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES

To avoid any uncertainty, it is emphasized that all beaches, dams, lakes and rivers as well as the recreational facilities at such places are closed to the public, and that no swimming, surfing, body-boarding, hiking along the beach or any similar activities are allowed. All public swimming pools as well as the recreational facilities at such pools are similarly closed.

The closure of the beaches (and related areas) does not apply to fishermen for fishing purposes who are in possession of a ‘fishing license’. Two qualifications should be noted: First, any person who wishes to fish must at all times be in possession of a ‘fishing license’ (or of a written exemption that he/she does not require a ‘fishing license’). No person without a ‘fishing license’ (or written exemption), irrespective of age and irrespective whether he/she is a family member of the person in possession of a ‘fishing license’, is allowed on a beach (or similar area). Secondly, the exclusion applies to bona fide fishing purposes only, and does not include any other activities (e.g. taking the dogs for walks on the beach, swimming, surfing and the like).

The same principles apply to boating, and in particular in the area between the mouth of the Keurbooms estuary and the bridge across the N2 National Road. A person (or persons, if applicable) with a ‘fishing license’ (or written exemption) may launch and use a boat for fishing purposes (subject to the rules pertaining to the maximum number of persons in the boat and all related safety and related requirements) from a formally approved jetty or slipway, provided that he/she is not accompanied by any person without a ‘fishing license’, and provided further that the boat is used for bona fide fishing purposes and not for recreational activities (such a water-skiing, sight-seeing, and the like).

The part of the Keurbooms Rives/estuary to the north of the N2 bridge falls under the jurisdiction of Cape Nature, while the Groot River estuary in Nature’s Valley is under the control of the South African National Parks. Indications are that exactly the same principles outlined above will apply in these areas as well.

The Robberg Nature Reserve remains open for both hiking and fishing purposes only between 09h00 and 18h00, provided that not more than 300 people are allowed within the Reserve at any time. It should be pointed out that the Robberg Nature Reserve may only be accessed through the gate. Fishing is only permitted to fishermen in possession of a fishing license.

The launching site at the Central Beach is an approved slip-way. Commercial fishing operators (such as Enrico Fishing Charters and Thulamanzi Fishing Services) and well as boat-based commercial operators (such as Ocean Blue Adventures, Ocean Safaris, Offshore Adventures, Ocean Kayaks, Ocean Sailing Charters) are allowed to continue operating from this venue.

Issued by: Bitou Communications

Last published 04 January 2021