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Cox arrest at gunpoint focus of provincial investigation

By Deon Van Der Merwe East London Correspondent

THE circumstances under which South Africa‘s top international off-road motorcycle racing ace, Alfie Cox, was arrested at the weekend, allegedly at gunpoint, are being investigated by the provincial environmental affairs department.

Cox, a registered tour operator who has brought small groups of foreign off-road enthusiasts to the Wild Coast for the past 10 years, was slapped with a R10 000 spot fine, which he paid to avoid spending the weekend in police custody and having his motorcycles confiscated.

He was leading a group of Australian and New Zealand airline pilots on a ride out of Hole-in-the-Wall on Saturday when he allegedly led his clients into a vehicle-restricted area.

Cox, of Paris to Dakar fame, said he appreciated strict laws and regulations were aimed at preserving the environment and did not have an issue with the fine if he had broken the law. He did, however, take strong issue with the manner in which environmental officer Ruan Botha had threatened him with an R1 service rifle and forced him to lie on the ground in front of international clients.

One of the pilots, Morgan Price, from New Zealand, described the situation as “scary” and said in his view the official was “an angry young man with too much power which he was clearly abusing”. He said they had not given the official any cause to bring his rifle into play.

Acting department head Albert Mfenyana said yesterday he had been contacted by senior executive Jaap Pienaar on Sunday following media inquiries about the incident. “I have asked him to look into the matter. We need to hear from any officials involved . . . before we comment.”

Wild Coast Holiday Association chairman William Ross described the incident as most unfortunate. He said this was not the first incident in which Botha had featured prominently.

“There have been numerous complaints about his behaviour and the manner in which he treats not only the Alfie Coxes of this world, but the public in general.

“In fact the situation got to the point where a fortnight ago I was forced to write to both the tourism and environmental affairs department and the Eastern Cape Development Corporation . . .

“My association is well aware that the government has a very difficult ongoing battle to curb the plundering and destruction of the Wild Coast and that people like Botha have a very difficult job. But there are ways of doing things and ways of not doing things.

“The Wild Coast is potentially one of South Africa‘s top local and international tourist destinations. We are already battling with an image of being a lawless region and incidents such as this . . . do us no favours.”

Ross, who is still awaiting a reply from Bhisho, said he welcomed Mfenyana‘s call for a report on the matter, and it would be good to hear the official version of the event as well. He also called for urgent talks between the government and the holiday and leisure industry to get clarity on new laws and regulations.

“Right now there are many grey areas with regard to exactly what constitutes proclaimed and de-proclaimed roads, which are no-go areas and where people in vehicles are allowed to go.

“We need to have clarity on this . . . It‘s a matter of education and we need to work together. Our industry is as much concerned with preserving an irreplaceable natural resource as the government, but it is difficult to operate under current circumstances.”

dvandermerwe@johnnicec.co.za

http://www.theherald.co.za/herald/news/n08_17072007.htm

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