03 January 2005

Van Schalkwyk urged to review 4x4 ban in KZN

Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk is under growing pressure to review the controversial beach driving regulations to allow 4x4s access to certain areas along KwaZulu-Natal's 600km coastline between Port Edward and Kosi Bay.

The Speaker of the Mtubatuba/St Lucia municipality, M C Zungu, has urged Van Schalkwyk to meet communities at grass-roots levels to assess the impact of the ban on 4x4s.

Klaus Thaumueller of the St Lucia Beach Action Committee of South Africa said it was imperative for the minister to visit the area to see for himself the socio-economic impacts of the National Environmental Management Act regulations introduced three years ago.

Van Schalkwyk's provincial tourism counterpart, Narend Singh, flew to the Zululand coastal resort on a "fact-finding mission" to meet stakeholders concerned about the impact of the ban on the local economy.

Thaumueller said his organisation had 8 000 to
10 000 pages of documentation dealing with socio-economic and environmental studies on the beach ban which were gathering dust because of the national government's attitude towards an issue that was affecting coastal tourism and communities that depended on this industry.

Investors in St Lucia and other coastal towns had lost "huge amounts" of income as a result of the rigidly enforced ban. Many businesses had had to close and turnover was down, Thaumueller said, adding that the national government should be liable for its actions.

Singh's brief visit to St Lucia, a resort which has featured prominently in media reports about the 4x4 controversy, included a drive along the beach to the skiboat launch area at the mouth of the Umfolozi River - which is flowing strongly again after good rains in the catchment - a packed main beach and an informal meeting with tour operators, the hospitality industry and representatives of the local and district councils.

Mtubatuba Mayor Chris Swartz thanked Singh for visiting the area to meet affected people and find out how he could "change things for the better, because we are all going through rough times; the 4x4 ban has created major problems in terms of job opportunities".

Singh said that as the political head of tourism in KwaZulu-Natal he had been concerned about the impact of the regulations on coastal visitor numbers and had argued for a meeting between the national minister and provincial leaders about the need for a "more flexible but responsible approach" to the issue of the use of off-road vehicles.

As an environmentalist at heart and also a firm believer in sustainable development, he said he did not want to see vegetation and beach life destroyed, but he could not believe there were not areas where environmental damage would be limited or even negligible where "some activities" could be allowed.

St Lucia could be one area where a scientific study might indicate that between certain points the beach could take up to, say, 50 vehicles at a time.

"People have to survive, and to survive we need rands and cents and, more importantly, we need dollars and pounds to come into our province."

"There has to be a responsible way to deal with the issue," Singh said, calling for "creative, workable solutions so that we can have a win-win situation".

The St Lucia Ratepayers' Association urged Singh to ensure that the Department of Environmental Affairs carried out a "meaningful" socio-economic impact study of the ban's effects.


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