A proposed City of Cape Town beach by-law has tongues wagging in the Mother City.
The draft coastal by-law is meant to provide measures to protect coastal areas, manage access to beaches, regulate public access and discourage anti-social behaviour.
But some civic organisations say it could end up policing poorer beachgoers in particular. Among other things, the draft by-law makes it an offence to “use foul or indecent language” on the city’s public beaches.
The proposal also regulates the erection of “structures” on the beach, other than umbrellas and gazebos, which must not be over the size of 9m2 or “unsightly”.
Also, beachgoers in areas where an admission fee is charged must produce a receipt of payment on the request of a city official.
Rate-payer interest groups say certain provisions on protecting the coastal environment are welcomed.
But they also describe other proposals, where human behaviour will be policed, as outrageous.
“There are some pieces [of the proposed by-law] that are absolutely excellent, like issues of coastal encroachment and the protection of sensitive environmental spaces. But some issues are borderline ridiculous,” says Sandra Dickson of ratepayer pressure group Dear Cape Town.
“Issues like not swearing on beaches. The city with all its by-laws is going over the top. It’s becoming a nanny municipality.”
The proposed by-laws outlaw alcohol and drug use on beaches, issues that are already vigorously policed by law enforcement officers. Hawkers and exhibitors will be banned. And performances and beach entertainment will also face the axe if the by-law goes ahead in its current form.
This means that strumming a guitar on the beach during a sunset picnic could be a thing of the past.
Dickson says: “By the same token, the city allows permits for all sorts of things [such as hawking and entertainment] on the beaches. So, basically our beaches are going to belong to the city. Even though they say it’s for the public’s own good.”
Interest groups are also worried about whether the proposed by-laws could affect busy beach days such as Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, when people in working communities flock to Cape Town’s swankier beaches, such as Clifton and Camps Bay. The new by-laws could regulate the number of people entering and using a public beach.
“Their primary goal is not for the interest of the public. Their goal is to make Cape Town a first-world city, which is only for the few rich people,” claims Dickson.
In January, the issue of access to Cape Town’s beaches became political after a group of beachgoers to Clifton’s Fourth beach alleged they were instructed by a private security firm to vacate the beach at sunset.
Parliament’s environmental affairs committee called for an investigation of the saga, whereas Cape Town residents debated the use of private security companies to help city law enforcement officials police public beaches.
The City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for spatial planning and the environment Marian Nieuwoudt said while a
lot of focus has been on foul language, there’s been little brought up during public participation processes so far.
“We are halfway through our public hearings, and it was only a discussion point at one of these hearings, and only one or two people raised it. We’ve said it’s about unruly behaviour and that everybody has access to enjoy the beach,” she said.
Nieuwoudt has challenged Capetonians who are opposed to the by-law to attend public participation meetings so that amendments can be made.
“This is a draft by-law, if people tell us that unruly behaviour is acceptable then we change the by-law,” she said.