Hopefully last night’s meeting regarding the proposed law for public drinking in Knysna was a brain opener for those new to Knysna politics and how our local government works (or is that “doesn’t work”?).
Personally, it was important to me to have the public witness a fraction of the challenges i’ve faced in trying to get answers and sense out of our politicians and municipal employees.
We were in Council Chambers for a rare Ward 10 (Knysna Central) public participation meeting regarding the topic that found social media ablaze the past week. It culminated in an apparently inflammatory meeting with DA constituents at the Angling Club this week. This session was open to all but, notably, it was mostly DA supporters in attendance. Mayoral Committee Member and Ward 10 DA Councillor Peter Myers presided.
Before i slam-dunk criticism, let me first compliment those (even some of my enemies) for their attendance and contribution. No matter if we are in agreement or disagreement, last night’s participation gave me that rare feeling of being a member of a community in a democracy. That our objection was undertaken in a civil manner was applaudable.
The NSRI made a solid, level-headed contribution which i’m sure carried even more weight considering our great local respect for the organisation. Mike Elliot, its Director for the Southern Cape started the meeting for us with, “We place on record that we oppose [the proposed law] in the interest of saving lives.” In his dual role as a Community Policing Forum (CPF) member, he stated that the SAPS are unable to cope so any problems with drunken behaviour, by default, would become municipal law enforcement’s problem. As many pointed out, local law enforcement is already overburdened.
On several occasions over the next hour, he was backed up by NSRI’s Knysna Station Commander, Jerome Simonis, who related that he’d personally attended to 4 drownings this year and that 3 of those were alcohol related.
At this point, Councillor Peter Myers made the first of several stumbles that evening when he responded inappropriately that it was proof that there were drowning before this proposed by-law, as if to substantiate why the intention to allow public drinking should be enacted. It’s possible that he wasn’t getting his point across because he was tired (i mention that because it’s the tiredest i’ve ever seen the man who only became a politician recently – it’s undoubtedly a challenging job). However, i’m less forgiving in light of what happened later.
Simonis further stated that Knysna doesn’t have sufficient emergency services, especially during the holiday season. He expressed the need for more professional lifeguards and not casuals.
The only person in favour was Martin Young whose argument on behalf of poor people seemed to be a white guilt essay written from afar rather than based on actual experiences in our community. His world view was one where coloured people were too poor to drive to Cathy Park. There were enough in disagreement without me asking how the boot sound systems got there. I’m not taking a side in that issue, just pointing out how ridiculous Young’s input was. Furthermore, his belief that people without backyards deserved a public place to drink (reiterated the DA’s distasteful argument in media) flies in utter contrast to the “places without backyards” having, arguably, the biggest alcohol problems.
Young was the only supporter for the DA’s stance on this controversial proposal. I question his sincerity as he posted, on Peter Myer’s Facebook page, that he is “an aspirate candidate for local council next year.” I’m willing to bet that that’s for the DA. If so, it furthers my argument that it’s politicians versus the will of the public rather than serving the public.
Before i dig deeper into the politics of the matter, let me admit that i was sorely tempted to question Young’s thinking made illogical by his seeming absence from our town’s reality. But i didn’t have to because Marlene Boyce, the only coloured speaker on the night, did so far more eloquently than i would have. She was immediately endearing when she stated that she considered herself privileged but that her friends would rather escape the problems of alcohol in their areas to have somewhere wholesome to take their families.
Several mentioned or supported the fact that the current laws were made for reason i.e. there was a process that led to laws preventing drinking in public so how could that be ignored?
Susan Campbell, an ex-prosecutor and student of environment law, made a strong legal argument for the by-laws illegality as well as the removal of the word “public” from the Roads & Traffic by-law (which some see as paving the way for the Council to allow public drinking areas). Rather than debate it, Myers said that he would have a meeting with her outside our public meeting. Whatever happened to public participation?
Importantly, Myers refused to give the issue context. It’s ridiculous that it even got to the stage of public participation as it’s an idea that shouldn’t have materialised. He would not tell us who made the proposal for this by-law that almost everyone doesn’t want. Who put it forward and why it’s being pushed against common sense matters. If there isn’t a hidden agenda then why hide it?
Myers reckoned that this process was just a normal part of the schedule of reviewing by-laws… BUT THIS SITUATION ISN’T NORMAL. Having a public participation meeting after a Mayor Committee meeting on a matter isn’t normal at all (the only time i recall it happening is when my blog sparked a massive protest against the discrimination of pit bulls). Consequently, i asked Myers to please explain to the public present what the order of events is supposed to be regards council meetings and public participation – he wouldn’t. So you know, he should have said that public participation is supposed to be requested before a Section 80 committee passes a motion onto the Mayoral Committee (which Myers is part of).
“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.”
– Steven Langlands as quoted in The Knysna-Plett Herald
Myers utter fell in a immoral hole when Ian Uys, the leader of the Knysna Ratepayers’ Association pointed out that Steven Langlands, the Manager of Community Safety, was quoted in the Knysna-Plett Herald as being firmly against the Council’s motion. I explained that of all the managers, Langlands is the most important to this conversation i.e. his opinion matters. Myer’s response was to say that we shouldn’t believe everything we read in the newspapers-
-BUT THIS WASN’T JUST IN THE NEWSPAPER. Peter Myers was at that meeting. “Were you or weren’t you?” He confirmed that he was. So i asked him whether Langland’s was for or against the proposal for public drinking and MYERS SAID THAT HE COULDN’T REMEMBER. It seemed to be a moment of utter contradiction and lie. Thankfully, Uys defined the matter when he said that Langlands had confirmed his statement to him.
Myers also wouldn’t tell wouldn’t tell us why there was no consultation with Community Services, the SAPS and other relevant organisations before it became a motion.
He also wouldn’t explain why the Council is heading in the opposite direction to the national movement that recognises alcohol as a big problem and thus their are governmental efforts to ban associated advertising, increase the age limit to 21 and zero tolerance for drivers. Instead, under the DA,
- Alcohol is being illegally sold on the Knysna High’s sport’s field during the Oyster Festival.
- Alcohol trading hours have been extended to Sundays as well as earlier and later every day.
- And this, the intention to designate public areas for drinking during the holidays.
So why is Peter Myer’s adopting such a quicksand position? He did it before, regards the Knysna Tourism issue (he was then the Chairperson of the DA Constituency). Is it because, as a i claim, that our politicians put their political parties before the public? Putting business before public welfare sounds like something politicians do but it’s seems outlandish to give credence to the rumour that the DA is misguidedly looking for votes from non-whites, trying to capitalise on the discontent between Cathy’s Park and Olde Place residents, and Green Hole and Leisure Isle residents. Whites will vote for us anyway but we need those coloured votes if we’re to have a chance at holding onto the town now that the two new wards will be won by the ANC, giving them a majority. As outlandish as it sounds, there’s no reasonable explanation on offer as to why the DA are doing what they’re doing.
I switch from the word “Council”to “DA” because, as i’ve repeatedly stated, they’re the one’s in charge, the party voted in to protect us. The DA’s propaganda website, Knysna Knews, which has strongly supported their stance, will try dismiss me as just a DA basher but that is entirely misleading (as they mean it to be)… and, thankfully, i wasn’t alone this time. We have presented facts overwhelmingly in favour of our objection. We have asked questions that the DA will not answer. The evidence speaks for itself whilst birthing awkward questions as to where is leadership in our town?
It is highly notable that ex-DA Councillors for Wards 9 & 10, Michelle Wasserman and Richard Dawson, are against this law. Now that they are no longer in the party they are suddenly free to have an independent, contrary opinion. Is there a difference between the spirit of democracy within the Council Chambers versus being a member of the public?
To end, there was the very small mention of allowing drinking on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, as a compromise. I know how topics can be twisted later so as to have more import so i was sure to state then that the overwhelming majority were against all public drinking. It was more important for me to state such because Dee Hollely, Ward 10 public committee member (but also fundraiser for the DA), was taking notes and repeated it as if it were a serious motion from the gallery.
At least Myers admitted that, so far, at other public participatory meetings, the mood was overwhelmingly against allowing designated public drinking areas.
I’m not against drinking and blowing off steam (i love a good Windhoek) but i am against it when it affects others.
To sum up everything i’ve said: STOP THE STOOOPID PUBLIC DRINKING IDEA.
I hope that we have a victory for common sense, as we did with the dog/pitbull by-law. My even bigger hope is that these victories encourage the public to participate in future matters (we have bigger problems than this).
We can only make a difference when we try.