A Hout Bay fishing activist says Tuesday’s violent protest in the fishing town is the result of simmering frustrations amongst the fishing community. Mayhem erupted in the fishing village as fishermen barricaded roads burning tyres and rubble, clashed with police‚ petrol bombed Nyalas. Police responded with rubber bullets‚ tear gas and stun grenade, injuring an 11 year old boy who was shot in the mouth with a rubber bullet. A Cape Town police officer was also injured when protestors set off a flare in the direction of police.
Speaking to VOC Breakfast Beat on Thursday, Ikram Haliem from the Hout Bay Fishers Community Trust (HBFCT) said the issue relates to fishing quotas and the inadequate housing in Hout Bay.
“Things boiled over yesterday because they can’t take it anymore. I was contacted by the police and told to talk to the protesters. They say they are tired of our leaders and they have no trust in the system. They want the Minister, Premier and Mayor to address them.”
Haliem said he had tried to engage with the protestors, but things escalated fairly quickly.
“I urged the protestors to keep things peaceful. But then the people started taken the benches from Mariners Wharf and setting it alight. This prompted police to gear themselves up as the fishermen are damaging property. They then told me to get out of the way so they could take action.”
The protest followed a meeting at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries this week in which it was announced that the officials would be cutting the total allowable catch (TAC) for the West Coast rock lobster.
“Hout bay is one of the oldest crayfish fishing communities in South Africa. People say they have their backs against the wall. The fishermen say they cannot accept this,” said Halim.
A meeting was held on Monday with a network of fisherman on the coast. A memorandum was handed over for the Minister of Forestry and Fisheries, but the fishermen are still waiting for answers.
It has called for the immediate suspension of all the fishing rights and West Coast Rock Lobster processes that are on-going.
The National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said the protest action was the work of imposters and not bona fide fishermen. The department’s Deputy Director General, Siphokazi Ndudane, says fishermen are not violent people and always engage meaningfully with the department whenever they have grievances.
Masifundise director Naseegh Jaffer and co- ordinator of World Forum Fisher People, said they support the action and believe traditional fisherman have an “absolute right” to claim their fishing rights.
“It is government’s obligation to grant them a system where they can use that right. In Hout Bay, Saldanha Bay and other coastal communities, fishing is a way of life to survive. Buy not granting fishing rights, it’s a travesty.”
Following a court case in 2007, the department was compelled to implement the Policy for the Small Scale Fisheries Sector (Policy). The policy is meant to provide redress and recognition to the rights of small scale fisher communities, but despite this, nothing has been done.
“There is a sense of bizarreness that the government is not implementing this policy,” said Jaffer.
Government has to be sensitive to plight of poorer communities, he added.
“The government is allocating fishing rights to industries for commercial purpose. While we are not against the commercial industry, there must be equity in their approach. You have to give resources to where resources are needed, not where resources are wanted.” VOC