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Open Letter To All Concerned South Africans And Musicians From Across The Universe


By Jonathan Townsend

Published Thursday, 21 August 2014 12:20

I have been a street performer (busker and satirist/stand-up street-artist - am originally from South Africa) for the last 35 years (playing all over Europe and now, for the last 6 months, in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Grahamstown). But I have never had more problems to perform in public than here in Durban along the beachfront. Virtually everywhere I tried to play, I was stopped, not by the S.A.P. nor Metro Police nor Law Enforcement, but by private security agents, called Beach Patrol, who always claimed to be acting in the name of their "superiors", saying that I had no right to perform along the Beach Front as apparently stipulated on boards along the Promenade. On examining two of these the boards, I found nothing stating that music was not allowed. They do, however, state that "informal trading" was prohibited.

When I perform on the street and elsewhere, I always exhibit a large poster/sign which clearly says in big, bold writing that no-one can miss: "DON'T GIVE ANYTHING" if you please unless you really have to. If you feel that I owe you something for the disturbance my music may cause you, simply TAKE IT OUT of my sax case. Thanks." This should obviously demonstrate that I am not trading (formally or informally) in any form whatsoever.

Two Saturday evenings ago (on 09.08.2014), the Beach Patrol Supervisor, acting with one of his colleagues, threatened to break my musical instruments if I did not leave the North Beach Promenade - where I had played to an appreciative crowd enjoying a night out. He had approached me when few others were around and had told me that I should get permission from the "Parks authority", although not stipulating where, nor whom, such authority was, emphasising that it would "cost (me) money".

And last Saturday afternoon (16.08.2014), the same Beach Patrol called the Law Enforcement - the same officers who had passed me several times previously without saying anything nor stopping me playing - who then, acting under the authority of Inspector B.A.Bonhomme, threatened to arrest me and to confiscate my musical instruments if I did not stop playing (I had, in fact, then not yet started to play). He did, however, refer me to Ms Vumi Mchunu, The Manager: Coastal Areas Region, Business Support Tourism & Market Unit (Informal Trade) of the Metro Police, Beachfront, Durban.

This last Monday, I was told by Ms Mchunu (tel: 031 3681660; cell: 0836269669) that they do not give permits for "busking" since it was allowed. She only dealt with informal traders which I obviously was not, she told me.

On asking Ms Mchunu and then, later, an S.A. Police officer patrolling the Beachfront, whether there existed another authority higher than the Metro Police that I could approach for such permission, I was told by both: "No".

Just to make sure, I approached the Licensing Department in Margaret Mncadi/Esplanade where I was told by Mr Collin Naidoo that they do not consider street music or busking as informal trading nor any other type of trading. But he told me that I should approach the Parks and Recreation Department of Durban North Beach and speak to the Beachfront Superintendent there, named Johnson, about obtaining permission to perform there as he believed it fell under Johnson's mandate.

On approaching Johnson, he told me that they do not, under any circumstances, give any musician, dancer, or other performers a licence of any sort to perform along the Beachfront. This was, apparently, according to the bylaws of the Durban Seaside Regulations, Section 10(1) Seashore Act, Section H.7, from Act No. 21 of 1935 [as published under Notice 41 of 1989 of the Government Gazette 11666, 20 January 1989]:

- (p) (it is prohibited that any person) "begs for money or asks for favours whether by word, gesture, demeanure or otherwise" [Yet this has nothing to do with me, as it should be obvious to anyone that I neither beg nor do I ask for any sort of favour. Indeed, the very opposite is true, as I not only offer my music freely but do also offer money and financial gain, as expressed on my sign/poster]

- (ii) (it is prohibited that any person) "shouts, sings, dances or makes any noise by any means whatsoever or operates, plays, uses or activates any musical instrument, radio, gramophone, television set, loudspeaker, sound amplifier or any other device which produces, reproduces or amplifies sound, so as to, or in a manner or to a degree which is calculated to disturb the peace or to interfere with the quiet enjoyment by other persons of the sea and the seashore or so as to cause a nuisance to any person" [Yet this does not say anything about playing a music instrument if it does the opposite, that is - if it is calculated to do, and succeeds in, producing sound for the enjoyment of other persons of the sea and seashore. Many of my audience have told me that my music augments the pleasure of the sea and seashore.]

Before I had originally started to play music on Saturday, 09.08.2014, I had watched, for about half an hour, various Beach Patrol agents pass by without doing anything towards a group of dancing and singing children dressed up in traditional Zulu costumes who were very clearly soliciting for money during their performances. Reflecting on how he had emphasised that I would have to pay for a licence to perform, and on hearing what Mr Johnson had told me, I was convinced the supervisor had been trying to bribe me.

On Thursday afternoon, 07.08.2014, I had played music on the Umhlanga Rocks beachfront but was stopped by two private security agents of the Umhlanga Community Policing Project and told that I should get a licence from their superior. On approaching their superior, I was told I could only get permission to perform there from the Durban Metro Police on the Beachfront - the same one as Vumi Mchunu is responsible for. It was perhaps easy for him to send me there as it would thus make me leave Umhlanga - I have not yet returned there.

I tried also, on Sunday, 09.08.2014, to play along the beachfront promenade which passes in front of the Suncoast Casino but was stopped playing at three different spots by two different groups of private security agents who each gave conflicting accounts of why I may not play there, one saying that the promenade was City property and that the Suncoast private security had been mandated powers by Durban City to control what was still public property - which seems of dubious legality to me. The other told me sternly and menacingly that the promenade was private property and that I had better get off their territory.

Street art/music is not a "trade" of any sort. Freely given music - as mine clearly is - stands apart from trade. It is a gift to all who behold it, unless a fee is imposed or it is used to solicit for financial gain, which I obviously do not do.

  Amongst other arguments, those against street music/art given by the authorities usually are:

- Obstructing free-flow of traffic. [This can only be justified if there is a justifiable complaint coming from other members of the public].

- Playing too loud or making an unnecessary noise. [This should not be the arbitrary mandate of a private security agency - such as the Beach Patrol - but   should be referred to the relevant authority, being: Environmental Health Department for the Durban Beachfront - contact Clive, tel: 0313113552.]

It is such a shame that, of all the places where all forms of art should be allowed, in the places / spaces best suited for it - namely, the Durban and Umhlanga Beachfronts - it is least tolerated. The beachfronts are so far away from anyone to complain about it and, if it is truly art, it is given enough time and space for it to be appreciated and enjoyed. Which of course includes music, it being one of the finest forms of art.

 And yet, the single most encouraging motivation I had for coming to Durban and Umhlanga from Cape Town was a PDF file I had read over the internet some months before: "Umhlanga Rocks Node Precinct Plan" which contains the following excerpts:

6.6.5 Public art

Public art should be introduced to animate the public environment. There are remarkable examples of sculptures which have become landmarks in their own right, such as along the seafront on rock formations in San Sebastian, Spain, by the sculptor Chillida; the fisherman in Buzios Brazil; Frank Gery’s fish on Barcelona’s beach promenade and many others. Public art can also be of temporary nature, linked to programmes and festivals and could contribute to add a different dimension to the beachfront as well as the proposed back-of-beach “Ramblas“.


  1. Encourage introduction of public art along beachfront and public spaces.
  2. Promote development of public art policy to encourage involvement of local artists

6.3.1 The Public Realm

“The public life of any town is like a play and the streets and squares of the town are the stage on which the play is acted out”. Bracknell Town Centre: Urban Design Framework (1998)  PDF

That a regulation which came out before (1935) and then reinforced during the Apartheid era (1989) is still being enforced today to the detriment of all in this new democracy, demonstrates how little things have changed in fact in South Africa.

Updated on:
>> Saturday, 01 October 2022 08:26

Op Ed


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