The SANDF will flex its military muscle in a public display on Sunrise Beach next month – complete, with tanks, canon salvos into the sea, flare-drops and fly-overs.
But some fear this “battle” of Muizenberg is a bridge too far for a spot where it’s illegal to light a firecracker.
The night-time display, billed as the first of its kind in the Western Cape, is set to hit the beach on Tuesday February 19, and, among other things, will see artillery firing live ammo at floating off-shore targets.
The Armed Forces Day events are expected to draw people in their thousands and cause the sort of congestion that will make a sardine can look roomy.
The operation has drawn flak from residents who say it will traumatise pets and threaten marine life. They’re also unhappy about the prospect of seeing tanks on an ecologically sensitive beach.
The event will be a show of the might of the South African National Defence Force, complete with tanks on the beach, aircraft fly-overs, flare-drops and an artillery demonstration which will include the firing of live ammunition rounds at floating targets in the Muizenberg-facing ocean.
Commander Greyling van den Berg, acting senior staff officer for naval public relations, said the live firing would be from a range of SA Army weapons, including various small calibre weapons, armoured vehicles, tanks and a multiple rocket launcher.
The night shoot will be one of the highlights of a week of events, from February 16 to 19, planned across the city.
The event is part of a week long event, one of the highlights being the Night Shoot. He said Muizenberg was chosen because it provides access to a vast sector of the population.
Residents have however expressed horror that on a beach where fireworks are banned, live rounds of ammunition will be fired at the ocean, that tanks would be allowed onto the ecologically sensitive beachfront; and have objected to the noise which will affect the area’s pets.
He concedes the noise will be bad enough that event organisers intend handing out ear muffs to the first few thousand.
“We unfortunately cannot do anything to dampen the noise for the pets, but, unlike the unpredictability of thunder during thundershowers, we can warn people ahead of the time to take all the precautions they can, to help calm and comfort their animals,” he said.
He specifically suggested that pets be brought inside, and that owners should be on hand to calm and reassure them.
The night shoot will be from 7.30pm to 9pm, but there will also be an hour-long rehearsal the afternoon before, from 3pm to 4pm on Monday February 18.
Commander van den Berg said residents should take precautions on both days to prevent their animals from being spooked or traumatised.
Jo Bosman, a Muizenberg resident passionate about animal welfare, claimed residents had not been consulted about the display, and by the time they had heard about it, it had been too late to do anything.
She asked where the public participation process was. “An event like this takes months to plan; Sunrise Beach isn’t even a designated area for fireworks, so what makes it okay to hold this event in this area? Zero consideration has been given to the effect of the noise pollution on the sealife and other animals: companion, stray and wild – their emotional well-being has been totally disregarded,” she said.
She also questioned the safety of any sea life in the area during the shoot.
Commander Van den Berg said regular shooting already happened in a that there is a section of ocean, declared a weapons range, near the Simon’s Town Lower North Battery which is a declared weapon range, where regular shooting practice takes place.
“We have been using that area since World War II, and we have no record of a whale or dolphin ever having been shot. We send boats out to secure the area and if any large animals are seen in the area the exercise is held off until they have moved on.”
The same would apply to the night shoot off Sunrise Beach, he said.
Environmental activist Kevin Rack, speaking in his personal capacity as an environmental activist, questioned the noise pollution, lack of public participation process, and also said he wanted to know what, if any, contamination risk the live rounds posed.
A total of 76 residents in the area voted in favour of Mr Rack pursuing his inquiries about due diligence around procedure for the Armed Forces day, on a Facebook poll he posted.
“What trace chemicals will remain after the event and what effect will they have on what the City of Cape Town usually calls a nodal beach because of its ecological sensitivity? What happened to the ecological sensitivity in the face of tanks on the beach in a residential area?”
Commander Van den Berg said the artillery shells in the night shoot would detonate above the sea.
“The shrapnel from this will be minimal and probably will produce less lead than a week’s worth of fishermen’s lead weights that are lost,” he said.
Most of the shells had iron or steel not lead, he said, and clean-up and rehabilitation contingencies were outlined in the SANDF’s environmental impact assessment.
He said that part of the SANDF’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has a section devoted to cleaning up afterwards as well as any rehabilitation of the area, if necessary.
“When this is over I hope the community will see that the SANDF are true to their word and will deliver on this,” he said.
The EIA is a particular bug-bear to Mr Rack said the EIA should have been done by an accredited independent body and not through the SANDF, but Commander Van den Berg said the EIA had been done by the book and had the backing of contract had been done in conjunction with the City of Cape Town, Marine and Coastal Management and SANDF and the Department of Environmental Affairs.
He said “environmental considerations” had been “an integral part of the planning process”.
In line with the Environmental Implementation Plan for Defence and the Environmental Policy Statement for Defence,The SANDF is committed to practicing due diligence and accepting the responsibility of stewardship for the environment under its control and within which it operates,” he said.
He said the SANDF is also committed to upholding and complying to all National, Provincial Environmental regulations and local by-laws relating to the conservation and management of the environment.
“To achieve this, environmental considerations have been an integral part of the planning process with respect to the Armed Forces Day events. In addition, all national and local environmental authorities and stakeholders have been engaged and have also formed a vital part of the planning for the events,” he said.
A permissible use authority has been issued in this regard by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The SANDF weapons would be deployed on the beach but behind fences, and access to sensitive dunes would be restricted.
sensitive dunes would be demarcated and all access will be prohibited for SANDF members as well as the public, and all weapons will be fenced off for safety reasons.
Thousands of spectators are expected at the event, which Commander Van den Berg said the event would not be seen again for another 20 years, at least, and was expected to draw thousands of spectators. He urged them to use public transport or come early in order to find space.
A number of roads Several roads will be closed and severe congestion is anticipated. Roads that will be closed are: Royal Road between Sunrise Circle and Axminster Road.
Motorists entering Muizenberg from Baden Powell Drive will be diverted up Prince George Drive where they can either use Clifton Road or Windemere Road to get to Axminster Road and back to Royal Road.
Motorists coming from Main Road side will be diverted down Axminster Road where they can either take Clifton Road or Windermere Road to get onto Prince George Drive.
No motorists will be allowed to enter Royal Road from Bath Road or Recreation Road. Should Baden Powell (traveling towards Muizenberg) become gridlocked, motorists will be diverted down Strandfontein Road and will then be diverted to 5th Ave, Grassy Park to get onto Prince George Drive.