“Privilege” protests vs police

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Beach lovers call for easing of regulations under the banner of #BackInTheWater


By Seth Meyer

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 5 of VARSITY News.


Well into over 50 days under lockdown regulations, many South African citizens have grown increasingly disgruntled under rules and laws that have restricted lifestyles and normal activities.


One such group of South Africans came together on Tuesday, the 5th of May in a protest they dubbed #BackInTheWater. Their goal, to protest regulations that prevent surfing, kayaking, and other water and beach-based activities. “We call on the South African government to see us, hear us and let us back into our ocean!” read the online post. The online call contained further details, calling on citizens to gather (an action which is illegal under lockdown law) at their local beaches on Tuesday, May 5th between 08:00 and 08:30, during the government-sanctioned lockdown, to bring boards, paddles and gear and to line up at a 2 metre distance in respect of social distancing rules. The post was aimed at “surfers, paddlers, kitesurfers, spearfishermen and other individualised sport ocean users” and captioned as a “Nationwide Peaceful Protest” and picked up traction on social media, with support from various users. There has also since been backlash on social media as well, with citizens scorning it as a “privilege” protest and pointing out the hypocrisy of wasting police resources.


In the end, it seems that not all went as planned because on Tuesday, the 5th of May, police were waiting at Muizenberg beach, well aware of the proclaimed action that was to take place under the banner of #BackInTheWater. Surfers stood apart with their surfboards, with messages and slogans written across them, with some surfers ignoring police commands and entering the water, refusing to return to shore. When they did, they were subsequently arrested. The online support that the movement did muster, was not entirely reflected in the number of citizens who turned up for the event. Clips and photos from the scene have since gone viral across South Africa, as police conducted arrests and chased errant protestors from the scene.


One video of a man apparently eluding and escaping police on a bicycle has been widely circulated with media users mocking the apparent incompetence of police and scorning what has been called a ‘waste of resources’ on their part. The man, who we know now as Dr David Gwynne-Evans a botanist, dropped his cellphone at the scene, which police subsequently used to identify him. He has since been charged and now faces a court summons in August. In an exclusive interview with News24, Gwynne-Evans protested the “extreme measures” and “unnecessary arrests” by police. He claims that police did not consider his constitutional right to protest and infringed on his privacy and security rights by accessing his phone as evidence to identify him. (Gwynne-Evans told News24 that he had initially denied to police he was the man on the bicycle, but was forced to admit this when the police showed him evidence collected from his cellphone.)


There has been no further protest activity on this scale under the #BackInTheWater movement.


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