Race-baiting and political opportunism at the heart of Clifton drama
Events touched a raw nerve among South Africans, and were exploited by the ANC
There is no question, given the painful memories many of us still carry of atrocities committed under apartheid, that any talk of black and coloured people being forcefully removed from a beach can rip open painful wounds from the past. Legitimate cases of racism must always be addressed, but what happened on Sunday December 23 was not a race-related incident.
When I found out that people of all races - and not particular race groups as was claimed - were asked - and not forced as alleged- to leave a Clifton beach by a private security company due to safety concerns, I was angered by the ANC's deliberate misrepresentation of the incident for political gain.
I have since met with the security company, PPA, and the local ratepayers who hired PPA as a consequence of criminal activities on and around Clifton beach in recent weeks, to hear them out. I have also walked the beaches and engaged with a number of beachgoers about their experiences.
I learnt that on December 23, after sunset, two private security staffers began informing beach-goers it was not safe to be on the beach after dark and for their own safety it would be in their interest to leave. No aggression was shown and no particular race groups were singled out.
Faiez Jacobs, the ANC provincial secretary, was on the beach that night and chose to issue a media release a day later with accusations about "reintroducing apartheid" and "ending beach apartheid". He failed to concede that he had been free to stay at the beach with his family if he chose to take that risk. Instead, he saw an opportunity to once again bang the racist drum against Cape Town. Nobody else had complained and no official complaints were received.
As a result of the accusations, however, the city has reported the matter to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA), so it can be fully investigated by the appropriate structure to determine if any wrongdoing can be identified and addressed accordingly by PSIRA.
With the national government's year-on-year under-resourcing of the South African Police Service in the Western Cape - we have around 4,000 fewer police officers than we should have in the province - many communities have chosen to turn to private security companies for protection. But these organisations do not have the same powers as local and national government's law enforcement authorities. This trend is not unique to the Western Cape; it is seen across the country.
While the safety issues affecting our communities cannot be solved by policing resources alone, there is no question that we do need more resources, and this is why I will be recruiting more law enforcement staff for the City of Cape Town this year and in coming years.
Social media has sadly established itself as the go-to battleground for those seeking to misrepresent information. Despite about 10,000 tweets and retweets involving the hashtag #ReclaimClifton on Friday December 28, fewer than 50 "protesters" showed up on the beach in the evening, and about the same number on Saturday.
I was there on the Friday to greet the protesters and tried to engage some of them but they had no interest in hearing anyone else's view.
Those "protesters" also slaughtered a sheep on the beach, ignoring section 129 (1) of the Meat Safety Act, 2000 (Act No 40 of 2000) and red meat regulations, which read: "A person who slaughters animals for indigenous, religious or cultural purpose must obtain prior written permission thereto from the local authority of the area where such a slaughtering occurs."
I implored the deputy provincial police commissioners on site to intervene, but they refused to do so, and as a result we are now taking their inaction to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the Western Cape police ombudsman. This means more paperwork, taking our officials away from their other duties, but we will always follow due process where the Democratic Alliance governs.
Another example of the ease with which information is first misrepresented on social media and then very quickly broadcast on mainstream media is a photo that was doing the rounds of city law enforcement officers "patrolling" the beach with PPA security. This photo was not taken on December 23, as many claimed as evidence of the city's "official and contracted relationship" with PPA, but on December 16, when the city's law enforcement officers returned from an anti-poaching operation and PPA members came down to the beach and walked alongside them. The City has no contract or any official relationship with PPA.
The media, however, were happy to attach to their articles this photo of armed security and law enforcement, suggesting it was this group that had approached beachgoers. On the day in question there were only two private guards on duty.
In an age when fake news is drowning out the truth, our media have a responsibility to get the facts straight. It is in an environment of misinformation that political opportunists thrive.
With elections around the corner we are expecting to see more dangerous race-baiting and political opportunism, which will all be at the expense of building unity.
Thankfully, the truth eventually triumphs and we become better at exposing the lies.
While the past week has been a painful reminder for many of a terrible and unjust past, I believe there are some positives to come out of this avoidable and politically manipulated mess.
The ANC has yet again exposed itself as a race-baiter, the media have shown they need to shape up,and we as the City of Cape Town need to be more responsive and ensure our representatives give our communities the right information.
Cape Town is an inclusive city and while our country has a deeply divided past, the DA, where it governs, does everything in our power to build unity among our residents and to promote equality, inclusion and respect for all. - Plato is executive mayor of Cape Town