Tourist hotspot fears visitor backlash
It is one of South Africa’s biggest tourism draw cards, with holidaymakers flocking to it over the summer season for its rich coastlines and massive swells which make it a surfers’ paradise.
But Jeffreys Bay’s natural features are tainted by deteriorating infrastructure in the town, which battles constant sewage spills, water outages and shoddy roads.
This escalating problem could ultimately chase away tourists and potential investors. These problems were causing “a mess” for the town, new Kouga mayor Elza van Lingen said. In an interview this week, she said: “Over the last three holiday seasons we have really failed our tourists, and in so doing, also the locals.
“It is a mess. Sewage is spilling towards the sea or in streets. Refuse is lying all over the area, and we still have black water in Jeffreys Bay. “There is no electricity security.
“We have three months to prepare and to clean up Kouga before holidaymakers come through.” In 2014, during the December holidays, the electricity infrastructure in Jeffreys Bay collapsed, forcing tourists to cut their holidays short as the town was in darkness.
Last year, before Van Lingen was elected mayor, she reported municipal manager Sydney Fadi to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism for not having a proper plan to deal with sewage spilling into some of the rivers.
She said the case was ongoing. “At Oyster Bay there is raw sewage spilling into the rivers. At St Francis Bay, there is beach erosion,” she said.
“People are scared. We owe it to our residents to fix these issues. “In Kouga, we have dairy farming and we export citrus. We cannot afford to have our groundwater contaminated.”
Residents associations, business forums and accommodation establishments have high expectations of the new leadership. St Francis Bay Property Owners’ Association chairman Wayne Furphy said residents were fed up with paying rates and getting little in return.
“The infrastructure is in a poor condition due to a lack of adequate maintenance,” Furphy said.
“The infrastructure problems in particular discourage holiday rentals and holiday home investments in Kouga. “We expect the DA leadership to focus on performance by both councillors and the management and to consider public-private partnerships in dealing with the challenges.”
Dolphin View guesthouse owner Anita Meijberg, who lives in the Wavecrest area, said guests often highlighted concerns over the sewage spills, brown water and bad roads.
Wavecrest still has the old septic tank system in place, although money has been set aside to install a proper sanitation system.
Kouga and Rural Development Business Chamber director Mongezi Vika said: “There must be an emphasis in the budget on fixing the infrastructure problems. In Jeffreys Bay there are burst pipes every day.”
Dolphin Beach Entertainment manager Stephanus Ferreira said: “Jeffreys Bay has one of the best, biggest and safest swimming beaches in South Africa.
We trust the new council will listen to local businesses who have a passion for this town.” Kouga Business Forum chairman Finney Jordaan said: “Tourists want basic needs met – electricity, clean water and adequate sewerage capacity. We did meet with the mayor and these were the immediate projects we agreed to give urgent attention to.”
Van Lingen said municipal systems were not working well.
“I believe out of the 27 sucking and refuse trucks, only one is working. Contractors have been hired to do the jobs. “What I need to know is, how long is it going to take to fix? If it can’t be fixed in a week, what the hell is the problem ? ” Van Lingen said.
Quick fixes before the holiday season would be fixing streetlights and potholes, and painting road lines.
“Sewage spills are not a quick fix but they must be fixed before December. We have a Blue Flag beach and we must retain that status,” she said.
In June, chief financial officer Selwyn Thys said that this financial year millions had been set aside to address the infrastructure issues.
Van Lingen, however, said the budget was not enough.