It had all the elements of a breakthrough moment: On a crisp and beautiful Cape morning Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs & Tourism and Ari Seirlis and some friends from QASA drank a champagne toast to the announcement that after a three year ban South Africa's beaches have become accessible again to people with disabilities.
"This is about so much more than just getting on to the beaches. It means people with disabilities will finally be able to enjoy South Africa's wonderful coastline, and children from special schools will no longer have to be left in the car parks metres from the beach and never being able to sink their feet into the sand," said Ari Serlis. He said the breakthrough was particularly appropriate being announced on the Day for People with Disabilities and matching the theme of Nothing About Us, Without Us. He gave the Minister a commitment on QASA assisting with the implementation of the new system."
Marthinus said his department had the challenge of balancing the protection of the natural environment against the needs of many different communities. In developing policy and setting regulations, we aim at all times to promote the greatest level of environmental enjoyment which can responsibly be sustained.
“Since the 4x4 beach regulations were first introduced in December 2001 we have seen remarkable signs of environmental recovery. Species at risk (like the African Oyster Catcher, the Ghost Crab and the leatherback turtle) have all made substantial progress.”
He said at the same time the authorities had noted some problems with the implementation of the regulations – one of the most pressing was the “â€¦ severe limitation on access to our beaches by people with disabilitiesâ€¦”. He announced officially that with immediate effect, people with severe physical disabilities would be eligible to apply for permits to access beaches using appropriate off-road vehicles.
“The amendment is the result of the constructive engagement between our Department, the Quadriplegic Association of SA and the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities, who will also be our partners in implementing the amendments by verifying the status of those who apply.” (Picture: From Left: Dion Rademeyer, Andrew Stodel (on quad), Marthinus van Schalkwyk and Ari Seirlis.)
Public participation in finalising the amendments had been strong, he said: “Since April this year alone, more than 2000 public comments have been received commenting on the drafted legislation. The end product is the publication today of the new requirements in the Government Gazette.”
The amendments provide for off-road vehicle permit applications from people with disabilities as well as from film crews and participators in organised angling competitions. The changes are detailed in a special guideline document which says where forms are available and gives details of the fees payable and the details needed to acquire the necessary permits for access. The information and forms are also available on the Department’s website at www.environment.gov.za or from the Marine and Coastal Management call centre on 0861 123 626.