EASTERN CAPE FISHERS WANT ANSWERS! Small-scale fishers in the Eastern Cape voice their concerns about the future of ocean economy in South Africa on World Fisheries Day

Coastal Links Eastern Cape small-scale fishers and their community members used World Fishers Day to highlight their plight in the province and voice their concerns over the extractive emphasis in Operation Phakisa, which is squeezing them further and further out of the ocean and coastal space. 

More than 100 people, 66 of them small-scale fishers from rural communities along the Eastern Cape coast were present around the table at the City Life Church in Quigny, East London.  Participants included key government officials from the national Department of Environment (DEA), Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) at provincial and national level, the Provincial Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs (DEDEA), the Department of Public Works, the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA), traditional authorities including Prince Tyali from the Royal House, together with a host of civil society allies from the social movements and NGOs that have a presence in the province.

These organisations included the Legal Resources Centre, Ntinga Ntaba ka Ndoda, Inyanda, the Trust for Community Outreach and Education, the Border Rural Committee, DELTA, Zingisa, CALUSA and TRALSO.

This Provincial Roundtable aimed to enable the coastal communities to engage government and other key stakeholders on issues relating to Operation Phakisa in the context of their rights as small-scale fishers and to voice their concerns about the extractive nature of the government’s programme to exploit the ocean economy.  

Recent news reports from the province of KwaZulu Natal show that government has given the green light for the drilling of oil off the KZN coastline, and that 98% of the exclusive economic zone has already been leased out for oil and gas exploration, small-scale fishers are drawing attention to the failure of the DEA, the lead department for the implementation of Phakisa, and the DAFF to respect their rights.

They highlighted the irony of the situation they find themselves in where government officials are now promising them thousands of jobs through Operation Phakisa, but has yet to secure their small-scale fishing livelihoods, something they have been promised repeatedly since the Equality Court ordered the Minister to do so in 2007. Most importantly, the fishers are articulating serious concerns regarding the impact of the Phakisa projects on the environmental health of the marine ecosystems that form an integral part of their cultures and upon which they depend for food and livelihoods.

Mr Temba Tanci, (DEA), provided an update on Operation Phakisa.   He outlined the background to the development of Operation Phakisa and the different components of Phakisa, including oil and gas mining, marine transport and manufacturing, aquaculture, marine protection and governance. He also referred to the small harbour component and tourism, noting that small harbours are planned for Port St Johns, Coffee Bay, Hamburg, Port Edward and Jeffery’s Bay. He indicated that government believes 130 000 jobs will be created through the oil and gas mining sectors, including training of youth in managing oil spills.

His colleague from DEA, Mr Siyabonga Dlulisa provided input on marine spatial planning (MSP) and the MSP Bill and marine protected areas (MPAs). He stated that MSP was a tool aimed at facilitating different investors of the ocean. 

He said MSP aimed at ensuring that the ocean will be protected by facilitating the planning of different layers and sectors. He emphasised the multi-sectoral nature of the planning involved. In addition to mining, which will have upskilling programmes where young people will be given opportunities, he said there are educational organisations like PASA where skilled constructors will be trained.

Following these two presentations, the meeting was then opened to the floor to enable participants to engage with the government officials on the issues that they had raised.  Heated discussions ensued on a range of issues that these opening presentations had touched upon. Central to this was the question of consultation, what constituted adequate consultation and the experiences of the Dwesa-Cwebe community in this regard.

Members of the Dwesa-Cwebe communities from Hobeni and Mendwane villages, including Mr David Gongqose, challenged the DEA on the statement that they had been consulted and that this had been adequate. Whilst they agreed with Mr Dlulisa that some of them had mapped out their fishing spots on the beach with the conservation officials, they noted that the position of the marine scientists had held sway. 

Participants from communities around the room questioned the approach to the ocean economy that Phakisa is introducing. On the issue of job creation promised by Phakisa several youths in the meeting wanted to know where the money for the training would come from.  As one young person pointed out, where will the money come from for job creation as the country is not even able to provide free education for its youth?

A participant stated that from their experience of oil and gas mining, and what has been seen to be happening elsewhere, the jobs created are mostly for outsiders who have qualifications and technical capacity. Ordinary community members will only get jobs during construction and after that employment will be reserved for outsiders who have skills.

Several questions and comments focused on the impact of Phakisa projects on natural resources and people’s customs.  One participant questioned if there was any consideration of how the mining might destroy the environment and disturb its connection with the people? With the information about the whales and other species that died during the testing of gas, how much more damage will be caused by the actual mining? The response to this from the officials was that this was the reason why the DEA was the lead agent in Phakisa, in order to find a working approach when it comes to dealing with the impacts on the environment.

Coastal Links leaders raised their concerns about the approach to Aquaculture, noting that a capital intensive industrial approach is not community friendly and poses risks for the environment.  The fishers also expressed their serious concerns about the Oil and Gas exploration and mining that is proposed.  They pointed out the contradictions to the DEA, that this planned mining will contribute to climate change and poses serious risks for the marine environment and the fish upon which they depend for their food and livelihoods.

‘Recognition of small-scale fishing rights in the Eastern Cape’

In the following session, Mr Craig Smith, Director of Small-scale Fisheries from the DAFF, presented on the implementation of the Policy on Small-scale Fisheries.

He said that he wanted to respond to the issue of the length of time that it is taking government to implement the policy on SSF and put some issues in context.  He pointed out that the Policy on SSF was gazetted in 2012 but there were some ‘high level deliverables’ that had been achieved.  The implementation plan adopted in 2013 was a 5-year plan because of the complexity and nature of SSF which was a national, not just a provincial issue. The 5-year plan was only really started in 2014 so he said that technically speaking DAFF is now in the 4th year of the 5-year plan that ‘the community agreed upon”. He said “we will implement the rights within the 5 years”. He noted that there were mixed messages coming to communities from the Portfolio Committee meeting held recently about the issue of DAFF not having money to deliver. He said DAFF is only “facilitating support to the SSF, they are not the key funder”. Other government departments are also expected to bring support so it is “not technically correct to say we do not have the money”.

In speaking of the journey of implementation he pointed out that “a lot has been done” and government has not been doing nothing. The Marine Living Resources Act had to be amended and this new legal framework only finally came in place in 2016.  He said that DAFF had spent a lot of time communicating with local and district municipalities on this legal framework. Following the adoption of this legal framework DAFF immediately began the roll out nationwide.  In the last year 22 000 people registered to be recognised as fishers and he said ‘we are nearly ready’ for the SSF rights ‘to be awarded’. It will be for a period of 15 years.  When asked the date when these rights will be awarded in the Eastern Cape he stated that they will be awarded by March 2018. This will enable other support programmes to commence to help to develop the communities.

The constitutional rights of coastal communities in the Eastern Cape in the context of Operation Phakisa developments and the policy on SSF

Wilmien Wicomb, an attorney at the Legal Resources Centre, provided the closing presentation at the roundtable. She noted that the issue of consultation had been a key theme in this meeting. 

She said that the question of what constitutes effective and equitable consultation is very important. She pointed out that in many instances government officials meet with local chiefs before making the decision and often they do not consult the communities adequately. The most important things to consider are the effect and outcome of the consultation. Before taking a decision the long term impact on different groups must be considered and government must ask how will the decisions change peoples lives? Will they it be to better the people’s lives or destroy their livelihoods? Participation of those who will be affected is crucial, it must also be facilitated according to peoples living customs, not according to time limitations and measures that only suite the officials. Also processes must be in line with the constitution. 

Following Wilmien’s very powerful input and plea to all the participants at the Roundtable to ensure that there was real consultation community members present added their voices to the plea to the government officials to not overlook the small scale fishers and coastal communities in decision making in the future.  Christian Adams emphasised this, pointing out that the small-scale sector has the potential to develop the economy in a more sufficient and sustainable way than big commercials companies.  The community representatives present repeatedly told the government stakeholders present that they must please go back and tell their seniors that they are not welcoming Operation Phakisa in its current form. They urged that in finding a way forward, the government officials present, together with community, must establish a forum for ensuring adequate consultation of coastal communities in the developments impacting the Eastern Cape oceans and coasts.   

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