The latest decision to close all Eastern Cape beaches in response to the second wave of Covid-19 infections will decimate the province’s fragile tourism industry that is already on the brink of collapse.
Jeffreys Bay beaches were eerily quiet yesterday on a hot summer’s day that usually would have seen thousands of visitors and holidaymakers flock to the ocean for a day in the sun with family and friends.
Businesses who were hoping that the December holiday break would bring a much-needed cash injection after the disastrous first round of lockdown measures, are in despair. Cancellations are streaming in, as visitors take their business elsewhere.
These new draconian measures are, for many, the final death knell for their businesses and the end of thousands of jobs in the tourism sector the length and breadth of the Eastern Cape coastline.
Instead of a blunt axe, a comprehensive beach management plan could have been put in place.
Surely, common sense tells us that there is more chance of catching Covid-19 in a crowded retail outlet, than on an open beach.
Jane Cowley, the DA Shadow MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism in the Eastern Cape has submitted parliamentary questions to the Premier Oscar Mabuyane, asking him what consultation, if any, was done with tourism representatives at a provincial level.
“Premier Mabuyane must also provide the scientific, epidemiological and economic data that was used to justify the stance taken.
The truth is that the closure of our beaches goes against the scientific advice and recommendations made by medical experts and will be impossible to strictly enforce. We don’t want a repeat of scenes where young children are traumatised and dragged off the beaches,” said Cowley.
Even more questionable is why these measures seem good for some, and not for others. Why was it deemed fitting to allow Kwa-Zulu Natal beaches to remain open, when they too are seeing a spike in numbers?
The approach for Kwa-Zulu Natal is logical and would have worked just as effectively, if not more so, in the Eastern Cape Province, where we do not experience the excessive crowding on our beaches that occurs in that province.
In a capable state, a more nuanced and balanced approach would have given business and accommodation facilities along the coast more holiday trade security. Enforcement agencies could then have developed a more targeted and thus more effective approach to managing compliance.
We all appreciate that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a dreadful toll on the people of our province and that stricter measures are necessary to curb irresponsible behaviour if we are to rein in the spread of the virus.
However, closing the beaches is not the answer.
At a time when our provincial economy is at its most fragile in decades, and thousands of people have already lost their jobs, we need to do better.
Photo: Joey Nel