The days of thieves and vandals operating in Hout Bay harbour are numbered. The new harbour master intends to transform the precinct into a mini-Waterfront with proper access control and a zero-tolerance approach to crime.
Pumla Feni-Gela, 40, says tourists flock to the area with its natural beauty, markets and restaurants, although up to now they have been put off by crime.
But that is set to change. She has already developed a good relationship with the local police, law enforcement and neighbourhood watches, and they have conducted night operations to see what is going on.
“Boat owners complain about vandalism and there are a lot of drugs on some of the boats.”
She also intends tackling the sunken boats which Hout Bay has become synonymous with. Many have been half submerged for years while others are lying on top of each other.
Feni-Gela, who was appointed in April, is the first female harbour master in the country.
She jokes that she doesn’t mind what people call her. “Some say harbour master, others say it should be mistress’. I don’t mind – either of those or even manager,” the mother of four says.
Previously she worked as a Sea Fisheries law enforcement inspector based at Cape Town harbour.
She says she is familiar with most of the issues facing the harbour.
“I did my homework. And with my experience as an inspector I knew what to expect, so there was not a lot that took me by surprise.”
When she arrived she called a meeting with harbour users to introduce herself and see how they could all work together.
“Some people have been here for more than 30 years so they can teach me a lot as well.”
Feni-Gela said the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries would be liaising with Public Works, whose responsibility was was to supply security. Proper access control to the harbour would also be introduced.
Another long-term issue that has caused headaches for the department is how to deal with the controversial practise of feeding seals in the harbour in order to charge tourists to take pictures.
Danny Abrahams, known in the harbour as “Blitz”, and who allows the seals to take fish out of his mouth, told the Cape Argus last year that other operators were muscling in on his one-man show and that it had become a free-for-all.
Feni-Gela says some of the seal feeders called her a baboon and a “k****r” and told her to go back to where she came from because the harbour “belonged to them”.
But she refuses to allow them to detract from what she sees as her primary role, which is working with the boat owners to ensure the harbour is well run and the laws are complied with.
“So far people have been very supportive. The only ones who haven’t are those who want to continue their illegal activities.”