This morning, at many beaches around Cape Town and the country, surfers and others gathered to protest the fact that beaches remain closed on alert level 4.
Using the hashtag #backinthewater, people were encouraged to gather and protest peacefully, whilst maintaining safe physical distancing protocols and wearing masks.
You may have seen this image shared on social media over the past 24 hours:
It wasn’t long before the protests, and police action, descended into ugly scenes.
This paddler was arrested by police:
— Esa Alexander (@ezaap) May 5, 2020
Some reports suggest the paddler was arrested for “not moving” – which would have counted as “exercising” – and instead standing still.
The morning surely belonged to this protester, who was due to be taken into police custody before fleeing on his bike:
Watch: A #surfer protesting for his right to surf in Muizenberg flees on his bicycle after police try to arrest him. Video: Tracey Adams/ ANA #COVID19 #day40oflockdown#SouthAfrica pic.twitter.com/BKo2KA1fnX
— Weekend Argus (@WeekendArgus) May 5, 2020
Did he make it once he ducked around the corner? Well, this video via Murray Williams, shows what happened next:
Live from Surfer’s Corner:
Surfer protesting for right to surf is placed under arrest by police.
But then makes daring getaway on bicycle.
Police give chase at speed.
— MURRAY WILLIAMS (@NoSurrenderRSA) May 5, 2020
Looks like he made it and is still enjoying the sweet taste of alert level 4 freedom.
Another Muizenberg resident, 30-year-old Samantha Vietri, recounted her story to IOL:
Vietri, who was doing yoga on the beach, was traumatised after being verbally abused by an “aggressive” police officer, “who was completely attacking me”.
She was told by the police officer that she had to be on the move and was “pathetic”, and that he was going to arrest her
Vietri, who believed she was not breaking any laws between 6am and 9am, said two policemen had seen her put her yoga mat down on the beach earlier in the morning and did not prevent her from continuing.
Access to beaches, as well as popular mountain walks that form part of Table Mountain Nature Reserve, remain off-limits during alert level 4.
Under alert level 4, protest action is deemed illegal as it constitutes a “gathering”.
I’m sure the cacophony of voices talking about how trivial beach access is when compared to those going hungry is already deafening, but the protesters would probably tell you that it’s possible to be concerned about both at the same time.
One thing is for certain – the actions of police in the area this morning won’t win over any Muizenberg residents, who may also have heard the story of the arrest of Liam Bulgen.
This from TimesLIVE:
“It was very traumatic and it all just feels like a bad nightmare.”
This is how a Cape Town man put it after his family was arrested in Muizenberg on Monday after his toddler ran on to the beach…
Liam Bulgen and his family left their home about 8.25am. They live about 400m from the beachfront and were walking on the paved boardwalk next to the sea sand.
“My fiancée wanted some time alone so I let her walk on and I took care of our daughter.
“To distract her I took her out of the baby carrier on the boardwalk. She walked with me then suddenly ran on to the beach. She made less than 2m before I stopped her,” Bulgen said.
The toddler, who is 21-months-old, sat down and “threw a tantrum” when he wanted to pick her up.
Bulgen’s fiancée, Tereza Cervinkova, heard what was happening and rejoined him and the child.
At this moment, police officers arrived.
Bulgen says that one of the officers called him “stupid”, and the other told him he was in big trouble, and that he must get in the van.
Once at the police station, Bulgen requested that his parents be able to collect his child, as he feared for her safety:
“They told me they would be arrested if they did and we would have another charge.”
Bulgen said the health and safety standards at the police station were appalling and many of the police officers were not wearing masks.
“Some of the police found our circumstances amusing.”
More than three hours later, Bulgen and Cervinkova, were charged with contravening the Disaster Management Act, and a court date has been set for August 6.
Read that full report here.
Putting the handling of the beach protests this morning aside, Bulgen’s arrest seems ridiculous, no matter which angle you look at it from.
Given the increasing frustration around some of the alert level 4 restrictions, and a curfew that really is overkill, we can expect further ugly scenes to play out between law enforcement and angry citizens in the days and weeks to follow.
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