Small-scale fisher folk have reached end of line
We write to you in a much less formal setting and as South Africans to one another. The coastal communities appear to have reached an impasse with your department in respect of bringing about meaningful change to our people at grassroots level.
For months now we have battled to get meetings with you and followed this up with protest action which eventually led to an official engagement. The situation of the South African coastal communities has been highlighted so much that it would be impossible for anyone within your department to deny the real devastation your department has wreaked on already impoverished communities through inadequate fisheries rights allocation processes and also your complete disregard of the prevailing socio-economic conditions within these communities.
What will it take for you, as decision-makers, to see the harm you are inflicting? Are our people not your people? Why has it become so difficult for your department to exercise and enforce the necessary political will needed to bring about the change to grant all South Africans the opportunity for a better life?
It is difficult to comprehend that after 23 years in a new dispensation we still have departments which exercise their mandate in favour of the few who still exploit the masses. Regardless of how much you and your department try to convince our coastal communities that you are working in their interest, your actions and deeds tell a completely different story. How many of our coastal communities must still regress into the cesspool of social degradation and live with the social ills related to it?
You have had every opportunity to remedy this situation and you have acknowledged that you have missed opportunities to bring about remedial actions on behalf of our fishing communities yet you continue on your path of coastal community destruction.
Your department develops a social conscience when a handful of (temporary) jobs are threatened within big fishing companies but fail to address the challenges which have devastated our coastal communities for decades. When big, oversubscribed fishing companies are threatened with the possibility of losing part of their high value species allocations, then suddenly your department declares that legal challenges cannot allow you to stop or reverse certain processes, even though they (department) empathise with the situation at a grassroots level. Strangely enough, similar processes related to high value species (abalone) were successfully stopped in the past and placed on exemption status.
In South Africa, about 600 000 men, women and children are reliant on marine resources as their primary source of income while others use it to supplement their meagre income from subsistence livelihoods. Locally harvested species also provide other impoverished communities with an affordable source of protein and micro-nutrients which are critical in the early development phases of our children. How can you not see what you are doing to our people when these figures stare you in the face everyday?
Today, before writing this letter, one of our member organisations also sent a request for an extension of the East Coast rock lobster season, explaining in detail the reasons for the request. It revolves around the livelihoods of thousands of subsistence families along the Eastern Cape shoreline. It would be interesting to see just how serious you are about bringing about long-term sustainable solutions as much as addressing urgent social challenges through powers which reside with you as the custodian. Your department reacts swiftly when extensions, roll-overs, area relocations and more are requested by big companies but always seem to have a readily available excuse when coastal communities lodge similar requests.
You have given our fishing communities a small-scale fisheries policy that cannot produce any form of economic viability for its intended beneficiaries because you had already allocated the required resources to the commercial sectors and have effectively tied these resources up for years to come. You continually create expectations within our coastal communities by promoting policies which have no chance of bringing about the urgent socio-economic changes we so urgently need. You protect the one resource (West Coast rock lobster) that could still provide interim relief for our coastal communities for the next three years with such ferocity that begs the question, in whose interest?
It is our firm belief that it is every citizen’s duty to vote but also to question before doing so. Why, then, would we, as the fisher-folk of South Africa, vote for a government that is guided by a constitution that entrenches the protection of human rights and guarantees its citizens a better life and yet practises something completely contrary, as can be demonstrated by the abject poverty and explosion of social ills now almost commonplace in our once vibrant coastal fishing communities.
* Pedro Garcia is the Liaison officer "The Collective of Fisheries Organisations"
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.