Cops accused of being soft on beach protesters

Several beach protesters failed to wear masks or physically distance.

The authorities have been accused of double standards in their handling of protesters who flouted Covid-19 regulations, calling for beaches to be reopened.

The demonstrators, including Covid-19 denialists and several who were unmasked and clustered together, ignored lockdown restrictions and took to beaches around the city at the weekend including the Milnerton and Blouberg beaches.

The police monitored the protests, but, apart from issuing two fines and a warning, they failed to act against the demonstrators.

The beaches have since reopened after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an easing of lockdown restrictions on Monday night, but comparisons have been drawn between the police’s lenient response to the beach protests and the way they water-cannoned mostly disabled people to enforce physical distancing outside the Bellville SASSA offices last month.

In a statement, the EFF condemned the beach protests and the police’s failure to enforce Covid-19 regulations.

“If the majority of these protesters were black, they would have been arrested and shot at,” the party said.

These beach protesters along Otto du Plessis Drive were wearing masks and keeping their distance from each other, but elsewhere this was not the case.

Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama said it appeared that white people could go swimming at a closed beach during a pandemic without consequences.

“But when blacks go to church to worship, it’s rubber bullets and tear gas and jail,” he said.

City of Cape Town law enforcement spokesman Wayne Dyason said citizens had the right to protests in a peaceful and orderly manner without infringing on the rights of others, or breaking the law.

“The South African Police Service remains the lead agency in the enforcement of regulations related to Disaster Management Act,” he said. “Questions regarding the inaction, or not, of enforcement agencies should be directed to the SAPS.”

Provincial SAPS spokeswoman Brigadier Novela Potelwa said: “On Saturday, a surfer at Blouberg Beach was taken to Table View SAPS but was let off with a warning. That same day, at Muizenberg, a 42-year-old man got a fine for failing to comply with a police officer’s instruction. And on Sunday, one person at Blouberg Beach also got a fine for failing to adhere to Covid-19 regulations.”

Ward 4 councillor Wandisile Ngeyi also accused SAPS of failing to enforce the law. There should have been arrests, or, at the very least, more fines, he said.

“We are not living in a banana republic where people just do what they want and get away with it. The rules are there for everyone. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, and SAPS should make sure they enforce the law fairly across the board. The senior level at SAPS should take action against these officers who let people break regulations of the Disaster Management Act. Those people put themselves, their fellow protesters and their family members in harm’s way,” he said.

Police only issued two fines and a warning despite protesters, many of them unmasked, flouting lockdown beach closures at the weekend.

Paul De Freitas, of Milnerton, said the police’s failure to act against the protests gave others a licence to break Covid regulations.

“I’m tired of people acting like they are above the law. These protests last week will only help fuel other people’s disregard for laws and regulations. If people can break regulations to protest a frivolous activity like beach going, I wonder what happens next. The president eased some of the regulations last night [Monday] because the country was doing well. If numbers rise again and stricter regulations are introduced again, we might see people resisting even more because they saw how much they can already get away with,” he said.

Anne Norman, of Table View, drew comparisons to the storming of the Capitol in America. “People took pictures and videos of themselves breaking the law in both instances because they felt the privilege to. They know that the law would be kind to them. Where do they get such thoughts? Why do they feel like they are above the law?”