Police Are Throwing Stun Grenades at Surfers in South Africa

Craig Jarvis

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Updated 129d ago

Cape St Francis, Eastern Cape, South Africa. A quiet little corner of nowhere with a fun right-hand pointbreak, an equally fun beachbreak, and zealous cops throwing stun grenades at surfers. 

We all know the drill. Surfing is banned/surfing is legal. Surfers are getting fines, surfers are getting arrested, surfers have permits if they are professional, surfers are getting friendly warnings, surfers are getting let off the hook as cops are too busy, and the rest of the COVID-19 dramas drown out the drama of surfers and surfing. The only thing that is a certainty is that if the police get a phone call, they have to react. That's their job.

Related: Mounting Pressure to Unshackle Surfing in South Africa

Until recently there has been a mish-mash of proceedings, mainly because there is so much going on. Some surfers were fined in the St Francis area and JBay, some had their boards confiscated, and some found themselves in the charge office.

Others were let off with a warning, while others had a blind eye turned as long as things were stable and not out of control. There was very much a mutual respect thing going on, with interaction and ongoing communications between the police and the public. Low key and with common sense prevailing. That is all we want out of this repugnant situation really, just a smidgen of common sense prevailing. Well, let’s see how that turned out.

Things were going quite swimmingly, so to speak in Cape St Francis, there were no dramas and everyone being decent. That's until police started lobbing stun grenades.

The thunder flashes video can be seen here along with some fine commentary from the legendary Mr Deon Bing. 

Yesterday, (January 5) at around noon, a local surfer Misha G went to the beach to have a look. It was pretty quiet and seemed relatively empty, so our friend Misha decided to go and mind-surf a few waves from the safety of his bakkie.

"It was small and onshore, and it looked quite good, so I thought I'd just go and have a look at what I was missing," said Misha of his mission.

When he got there, he found the main surfer's car park cordoned off by a police van. "It was a bigger van, like a 10 – 12 seater, and there were a few cars blocked off in the car park,' recalls Misha.

"About 5 or 6 cops were sitting on the beach by the surfer showers," said Misha, “and there were two standing in the car park. I saw one of the guys throw something that looked like a rock at the surfers, and I thought, 'what are they doing? Why would a cop throw rocks at the surfers? That's not going to work.'"

The 'rock' landed about 5 metres shy of the water's edge, with plenty of exposed rock due to the low tide. "It in line with the police sitting on the bench," recalls Misha. 

The first stun grenade explosion shook his car, and the second one which followed immediately afterwards he could feel in his chest. 

"It was this loud, booming explosion,' said Misha, "and it was pretty intimidating. It gave me a shock because I wasn't expecting it; it was just such a surprise. I could feel the shock wave."

With smoke in the air and with cops waving, the two surfers, an older guy and a younger guy started moving.

We're a far cry from being back to normality like this.

From The Daily Maverick 2015: "First developed for military use in the 1960s, stun grenades are designed to temporarily disorient their targets without causing severe physical harm. They accomplish this by releasing a flash so bright that it temporarily blinds those close by, and a bang so loud that it renders listeners deaf and off-balance. They are designed to split, rather than fragment, and are partially made of cardboard to minimise bodily harm."

While the beaches are closed, Cape St Francis is still a holiday town with young kids around and older people were walking their dogs with their masks, and doing all the right COVID protocol stuff. The explosions saw people heading down to the beach in numbers to see what was going on, in various levels of agitation and distress. 

"It turned into a bit of a traffic jam, and then the cops started eyeing us out,' recalls Misha. "We all kinda dispersed, and I don't even know what happened to the surfers. They headed down the point to get out I'm sure."

It's easy to sprout the wisdom of common sense, and it is just as easy to lament the fact that our rules are abhorrent and asinine, but please don't try and be a hero. The police are merely doing their jobs in trying to flatten the curve. They are obeying their orders and doing what they have to do. Common sense must prevail. If you must surf, it’s probably better to do it in the dawnie, or the late evening surf. Don’t surf the point if it is ‘in the eyes,’ rather surf surf one of the quieter beachbreak corners.

Be cool, let’s all try and get along, and remember, the cops will have to continue to do their jobs.

Cover shot by Deon Lategan