“The seashore belongs to the people of South Africa”

On Saturday, July 8th, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and KwaZulu-Natal Subsistence Fisherfolk (KZNSFF) organized a fishing walk on the Durban Beachfront Promenade to bring awareness to what fisherfolk are facing in their city. 

Thousand Currents is currently supporting a joint project by SDCEA in South Africa and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in Nigeria, called Fish Not Oil. Below is media statement from the day of the walk. It demonstrates how fisherfolk are resisting the intersections of state-sanctioned repression through the guise of security, climate change, food sovereignty, and the inequality of resource distribution.

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Media statement by the KwaZulu-Natal Subsistence Fisher Folk, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, and all groups that have contributed to today’s event

Why are we here today?

The recent rush by oil and gas corporations to explore, mine and drill is of alarm to every person living on our coastline. These same corporations have a track record of spills and harmful operations that have destroyed the oceans, marine life, biodiversity, tourism and sustainable jobs in the Gulf of Mexico, Antarctica, North and South Poles, Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Niger Delta and many other sensitive areas of the Amazon. The most notorious is ExxonMobil, whose most recent boss is now the United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. It was recently revealed that Exxon knew about climate change from the late 1970s and Tillerson was involved in a cover-up with catastrophic consequences.

Can we trust this firm to drill for oil just a few kilometres offshore from Durban?

These companies are now launching an all-out frontal attack to get exploratory rights to search for oil and gas near our sensitive Indian Ocean shoreline. This kind of oil and gas exploitation is a Resource Curse. It has not benefitted any of the poor on the African continent. Instead, it has meant increased poverty for the masses and destroyed environments, while a few individuals of the ruling elite, both globally and locally, end up monopolising the profits. Wherever exploratory rights have been granted for mining or seismic testing, this ultimately leads to violence against communities, workers and environments. We witnessed this recently on our Indian Ocean coast with the death in March 2016 of activist Bazooka Rhadebe, whose Amadiba Crisis Committee opposes sand mining by an Australian multinational corporation.

Subsistence fishermen are defined as “fishermen who regularly catch fish for personal and household consumption and engage from time to time in the local sale or barter of excess catch”. The KwaZulu-Natal Fisher Folk and other beach and harbour users have used the entire coastline for hundreds of years. Together with fishermen, boat users, surfers, bathers, tourism operators and all nature lovers want our coastline to remain a site of beauty.

Since 2003, black fisherfolk have experienced harassment and oppression. One example is Metro Rail’s cancellation of the passenger train that carries hundreds of subsistence fisherfolk to the West Station on the Bluff. After a protracted protest, the train was reinstated. Despite this victory, in 2016 fisherfolk experienced Transnet freight rail deliberately stalling the passenger train because they were supposedly unable to repair a collapsed bank. The service is vital for poor subsistence fisherfolk as it is their only means of transport to the poor man’s fishing ground in the harbour where, at the South Pier, they can access deep water large game fish species that otherwise can only be caught by boat.

Following the 911 attacks, government and Transnet took a decision to deny access to subsistence fisherfolk in the Durban harbour in 2004 whilst allowing access to the expensive fishing boats and trawlers in these same fishing grounds. Durban’s municipal government and Transnet used the international ship and port security (ISPS) code to refuse entry to the mainly black fisherfolk, deeming them as potential terrorists and thus criminalising poor people trying to eke out a livelihood. Fisherfolk had to turn to the port regulator to be recognised as port users, thereby forcing the municipality and Transnet to provide access to traditional fishing grounds.

Legitimate fisherfolk who possess fishing licences have been enduring constant harassment, fines and, in some instances, arrest, and are forced to appear in the courts of Durban, only to find that the cases are withdrawn. Other instances of harassment by port security have included fisherfolk having their catches taken from them and their fishing equipment either thrown into the sea or confiscated. These challenges have emanated since fishermen began empowering and educating themselves about human rights injustices. Fishermen have worked together with Ezemvelo Wildlife to develop a mentoring booklet to ensure that endangered fish species are protected and that all policies can be adhered to by all fishermen.

Subsistence fisher folk pay millions of rands, which go into the state treasury, through the purchasing of fishing licences at the post office and yet there is no benefit: no facilities or services in return for their contribution.

Before the World Cup, in 2009, thousands of subsistence fisherfolk who catch sardines and shad as home delicacies were deprived of that opportunity because they were removed from the Durban beachfront on the Golden Mile up to the casino. Without consultation, the eThekwini Municipality signed an agreement with the World Cup organising committee to remove all traders and subsistence fishermen from beachfront and its piers. As fisherfolk were removed, big developments were proposed for some areas of the beachfront. Vetch’s Pier, North Pier and other sections of the coastline are earmarked for development for elite tourists.

The seashore belongs to the people of South Africa. Leasing areas for oil exploration and forcing Durban residents off the coast simply because they fish are against the South African Constitution that assures equality of access to everyone in South Africa.

At previous international events in Durban we have heard municipal government and Transnet officials vowing that no fishing will be allowed on the Durban Beachfront and the Durban harbour. These international events block only the poor and residents, but allow other water sports and expensive shopping brands access to our prestigious beachfront.

In recent news, Ezemvelo Wildlife has been making headlines for the wrong reasons: its staff include dubious appointees. We need a strong Ezemvelo with experienced leaders at the helm. Ezemvelo has a crucial role in our society and have been at the forefront of conservation in KwaZulu-Natal, halting poaching and protecting animals and marine life. Without that strong oversight and enforcement we will not have many of the species we still have today in the province. Although at times they seemed to be harsh and have treated subsistence fisher folk with distaste, we feel that they have been the strongest enforcement bodies in the province, watching our coastline, parks and beaches. Without that oversight we would leave nothing for the present and future generations to view, enjoy or eat.

What we calling for on this day

Government must stop the corporations’ seismic testing and oil and gas exploration on our coastline. If this testing is successful, our national commitments to cut fossil fuel consumption will make oil and gas finds useless as they are ‘unburnable carbon’, given the global urgency of reducing emissions.

Meaningful public hearings must be conducted with all interested and affected parties, including all communities along our entire coastline, to determine whether oil and gas drilling should be allowed. These hearings must also investigate evidence of the oil companies’ history of destruction and impacts on society where they were granted licences, and their contribution to climate change.

We also demand the opening all traditional fishing grounds in Durban, in the Port and on our coastline. The right to fish at South Pier has been a victory for KZN subsistence fisherfolk. However, we need access to the North fishing areas and Grunter Gully re-opened.

eThekwini Parks and Recreational officials must recognise us as ocean users and give us access to the piers on the beachfront and along the coast within their jurisdiction.

Fishing rights allocated to Japanese and Chinese fishing trawlers should be rescinded so that fishing rights and quotas are distributed equally to all South African fisherfolk.

Licensing financial records must be made available and accessible to fishing groups, individuals and organisations.

A policy for subsistence fishermen must be developed that takes their indigent status into account.

A moratorium must be enacted through policy and legislation on chemicals, toxic waste, and brine dumped in the harbour, ocean, rivers and streams. The depletion of fish stocks is partly due to pollution. We call on our government to hold a waste imbizo to discuss solutions to this dumping problem.

Our Victories

The South Pier was opened in 2014 by the then Harbour Master Dennis Mqadi, the port manager Moshe Motlohi and Ports CEO Richard Vallihu. Transnet has finally recognised KZN subsistence fisher folk as a major port user and stakeholder in Durban.

We applaud Transnet’s agreement to open fishing access at the Lucky Dip, which is located opposite the sand pumping station on the North Pier. Transnet management have agreed to provide facilities such the installation of toilets, wash basins, bins and bait boards at Lucky Dip. A proposal by Transnet to jointly hold a fishing competition at Lucky Dip in September with KZNSFF has been welcomed.

Transnet management has agreed to put aside a budget to ensure the North Pier is secure and to fish and will be opened to allow those subsistence fisherfolk with Transnet permits to fish.

A ferry will also be provided by Transnet to take KZN subsistence fisherfolk from the North to the South Pier.

Transnet has agreed to deal with the issues of harassment by Transnet security and SAPS police as long as fishermen comply with all legal status.

EThekwini Municipality has agreed to facilitation by the Durban University of Technology’s Urban Futures Centre to discuss the opening and maintenance of beachfront piers for fisherfolk.

Transnet’s withdrawal of the criminal case of trespassing against the KZN subsistence fisherfolk is a victory for the KZN subsistence fisherfolk.

Way forward

We need the national Department of Minerals and Energy as well as the Petroleum Association of South Africa to place a permanent a moratorium on the granting of any oil and gas exploratory licences. Public hearings must be held as a matter of urgency.

The eThekwini Municipality, government, Transnet and all the departments which have the responsibility for protecting our ocean must work together with civil society to ensure our marine stocks and waters are protected and always available.

To end the dumping of harmful chemicals, there must be an urgent imbizo.

We want to build an inclusive society and this must include access, protection and responsible use of our marine and animal resources. No effort must be spared to ensure the present and future generations also enjoy the fruits of our efforts.

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