KNYSNA NEWS - Members of the community who know about a motion that was passed at the Knysna Mayoral Committee meeting, October 15, have responded with absolute horror, since it gives the green light to drinking in public places around the clock over a period of days during the festive season.
If this recommendation is passed at a council meeting today, Thursday, October 29, it will mean that the following areas, Green Hole, Bollard Bay, Kathy Park, Coney Glen, Buffalo Bay, Brenton-on-Sea and the Old Jetty in Sedgefield, will be declared legal alcohol 'watering holes' from December 23 to January 2 around-the-clock, and from January 3 until December 22 from 06:00 until 22:00 at night.
Drinking of alcohol in these public places will be permitted from 06:00 until 22:00 at night.
Lawlessness and law enforcement
While this motion apparently sailed through the Knysna Mayoral Committee meeting, one very strong objection during the meeting came from the manager of Knysna Protection Services, Steven Langlands, who said loud and clear right then and there: "Protection Services is not in agreement with the idea of designating certain areas as drinking areas. This will create a problem in terms of law enforcement and could lead to an increase in cases of assault, murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, all of which can be ascribed to the excessive consumption of alcohol. It will further add to incidents of drunken driving."
Knysna SAPS' only comment, from media liaison officer Chris Spies, was: "The Knysna Police were informed of this recommendation and that a final decision will only be made at the Knysna Municipal Council meeting later this month. We did not give any input to these proposals and whatever decision taken by council will be respected. It is our mandate to ensure that members of the public adhere to the laws of the Republic of South Africa and all municipal by-laws, in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies."
In the meantime, there have been other objections.
Richard Thorpe, vice-chairman of the Knysna Ratepayers Association (KRA), said he was shocked: "I must say that we are shocked that the council may permit the drinking of alcohol at seven public areas within the municipality. It is well known, through research, that there is a strong linkage between alcohol, crime and injury in South Africa and such relaxation of the current rules may well exacerbate the dreadful incidences of murder, attempted murder, rape, GBH, etc.
If the drinking of alcohol is to be permitted then these hours must be policed as must the relevant parts of the by-laws relating to drunkenness and the causing of a public nuisance. Can the municipality assure us that they have sufficient law enforcement resources to do this?" asked Thorpe, concluding by saying that KRA believed that such action flies in the face of the many efforts of people and organisations who try to reduce crime in all parts of the town, for what can only be cheap political gain.
Chris Gould, chairman of the Knysna Heads Association, said: “I like to drink a beer or a glass of wine on the beach as much as the next guy. But if, based on years of experience dealing with this problem, Knysna’s manager for Protection Services says that the proposed change in policy 'will create a problem in terms of law enforcement and could lead to an increase in cases of assault, murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault, all of which can be ascribed to the excessive consumption of alcohol', then what in the world are Knysna’s politicians thinking when they decide to go ahead and change the policy?
And why are they doing this? Do they really think that the additional votes they might gain by selling out Knysna’s reputation as a safe, enjoyable tourist destination will be worth it? At this point in its history, this town has got one industry, and one industry only: tourism. Cherish it. Drink at home. And keep our beaches attractive, peaceful and safe for all of Knysna’s communities and visitors."
In an open letter given to the the Knysna-Plett Herald, the Leisure Island Residents Association (LIRA), which will be affected by drinking at two venues (Bollard Bay and Green Hole) on Leisure Island should the motion be passed in council, expressed their grave concerns.
The letter, dated October 19, from chairman of LIRA, Keith Hollis, is addressed to Knyna's executive mayor and he also copies Councillor Mark Willemse, the municipal manager, the director: Law Enforcement, The Heads Residents Association and Belvidere Residents Association:
"Dear Madame Mayor, Our Association represents the residents of Leisure Island.
"It has come to attention that the mayoral committee has proposed that the consumption of alcohol be allowed at selected sites at specified times and days over the festive season. We understand that, inter alia, Bollard Bay and Green Hole are on the list of selected sites.
"We place on record that we totally reject this proposal, or any which allows the consumption of alcohol in public and at public places.
"We shall use every possible means to deter the council from adopting such proposal. Further, to make public, to the widest possible extent, not only our total opposition thereto but what, in our view, is the sheer stupidity of this proposal. It will impact negatively on Knysna tourism, both overseas and local visitors, who make such a large contribution to the economy of Knysna. Further, it will impact on the desirability of Knysna as an attractive place for retirement.
"We further place on record that our opposition relates entirely to the consequences of irresponsible consumption of alcohol in public. Any suggestion that the residents of Leisure Island do not welcome tourists and local visitors is mischievous, doubtless for political reasons."
The lengthy letter goes on to say that LIRA's opposition to alcohol "should be well known at council level and to municipal officials [and it] has been made quite clear in the various meetings we have had over the years. Indeed, the main concern expressed when discussing measures to be applied over the festive season relates to behaviour resulting from drunkenness."
LIRA added that they understand that Knysna Law Enforcement rejects this proposal (for all the reasons noted by Langlands) and they understand SAPS has concerns.
"Finally, Madame Mayor, as you will see from the memorandum, it is a travesty to subject the decent law-abiding folk of your town to the type of behaviour flowing from excess drinking, as we have experienced on Leisure Island, such as: Aggressive behaviour toward residents, foul language, noise, nudity, dangerous driving, neglect of children (including drowning), fornication in public. And this for the sake of the few who drink to excess!
"We recognise that some are controlled in their behaviour. However, that must not be the excuse to permit the consumption of alcohol in public. Please disabuse yourself of the perception that Law Enforcement can control it. They have not in the past. They simply cannot!
LIRA concludes by prevailing on the mayor's "sense" in council. "We sincerely hope that sense will prevail in your council. We make no apology for the tone of this letter. Simply put, we are incensed that, after so much hard work with council representatives and municipal officials on this problem, that it should now come to this!"
Although comment from many was still being awaited, at the time of going to press the following opinion was available:
Councillor Rickey van Aswegen said: "I’m totally against the use of alcohol in any public place in the community, and concerned about alcohol abuse, especially if there are children with the people who use alcohol.
"If council decide to go with the recommendation, the by-law must be applied consequently without exceptions to the rules. Council must be ready to apply the law if they go with the recommendation."
Van Aswegen said he expected a big debate in council this week and encouraged the public to come to the meeting to listen themselves.
Municipal Manager, Grant Easton responds:The matter has not been finalised yet. At this stage is purely a recommendation from the Mayoral Committee to Council. It will be premature to comment at this stage. We will only be able to comment once Council has deliberated the matter and a final decision has been taken.
Speaker and Ward 5 councillor, Eleanore Bouw-Spies, had this to say: "I was not present at the meeting where this recommendation was decided on. Personally, I feel that the parameters set forth, as the recommendation reads now, would be highly irresponsible. Now that it is a recommendation to serve before council, I will ensure that the issue is properly debated when it is considered."