Mining along the coast and in the ocean in the Northern Cape are seriously threatening the livelihoods of fishers in the coastal towns of Hondeklip Bay and Port Nolloth, and the fishers, under the leadership of Coastal Links (CLSA), together with Masifundise Development Trust (MDT) are now organising a roundtable discussion with a range of role players and especially the mining companies to raise the challenges facing fishing communities when it comes to mining.

Morgan Johnson, CLSA leader in the Northern Cape said “We want to get the message through to the mining companies that their activities and policies seriously affect our livelihoods. We want to get access to the sea through the mining areas, at present we have to travel long distances by sea to our fishing grounds, where if we could have gone through the areas that has been fenced off by the mines, it would be quicker and cost us less in fuel money”.

Presently there are three types of diamond mining in the Northern Cape that affects fishing communities, which are land or beach mining, ocean mining and deep-sea mining.

All these three types of mining have an effect on fishing communities’ livelihoods, although each with its own degree of destructiveness and effect on the livelihoods of fishers.

Johnson said that the deep-sea diamond mining is not easily visible to them, and they mostly are South African companies, employing South Africans, working mostly in Namibian waters.

Although not visible and not an immediate threat to fishers, Johnson said that they are also destructive as they destroy the habitat and food sources of many sea creatures.

Ocean mining will happen as near as 600 metres from the shore, and are responsible for killing fish, destroying the habitat of sea creatures, destroying their food sources, chasing fish away from their natural breeding grounds, and preventing fishers from entering vast areas around their mining activities.

Land and beach mining are the most destructive to fishers, as it is the one that mostly prevent them from gaining access to their fishing grounds.

“Should they discover diamonds in a certain area near to a beach, they will literally dam up the ocean, by building what they call a ‘kofferdam’, and deny anyone access to that area.”

Johnson said this is very destructive as it kills the fish, especially the rock lobster in the dams and under the heavy walls.

The mining companies involved in diamond mining in the Northern Cape are West Coast Mining, Transhex Mining and Alexcor Mining Company.

Alexcor Mining is a government subsidiary company, and owns vast tracks of land, which are fenced off and people, except their employees are not allowed.

Johnson believes that this is because they fear that people will steal their diamonds.

“Many of the mining installations are run like concentration camps and you can sometimes mistake their operations to think that it are war zones, that is how militarised they are”.

“From two kilometres outside of Port Nolloth right up to Alexander Bay, the whole area is fenced off, giving the impression of the concentration camp and war zone”.

In these areas, and many similar areas in the Northern Cape, no mining actually takes place, but the areas have been given to the mining companies, and they keep people out, including the fishers.

Alexcor operates in Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay, and West Coast Mining, who has taken most of the operations of De Beers, together with Transhex Mining, operates south from Port Nolloth towards Hondeklip Bay and Kleinsee.

Another issue also affecting fishing communities indirectly are that the government intends selling Alexcor, which fishers feel can result in job losses and more aggressive mining activities, since this will be a private company.

At a Northern Cape CLSA meeting recently, all the areas where fishers are denied entry have been listed. Fishers expressed their desire to be allowed to get entry to only certain areas, which they feel will make their lives much easier.

Two task teams from Hondeklip Bay and Port Nolloth were set up to get the ball rolling to get the discussion in the province rolling on how diamond mining are eroding the livelihoods of fishers and fishing communities.

CLSA in Hondeklip Bay engaged their local ward councillor, who will be having a meeting with the mining companies, and he promised to raise their issues with the mines.

Port Nolloth CLSA is busy organising the Provincial Roundtable, and is busy contacting all the role-players that were identified at the CLSA Provincial Meeting in September.

“We intend to invite the district and local municipalities, the two ward councillors, provincial government and national government departments like mining, fishing, transport, the mining companies, trade unions and other social justice organisations like MDT and Legal Resources Centre.

Currently, it appears that in the Northern Cape the interests and profits of mining companies are prioritized over the tenure rights and livelihoods of small-scale fishers. It is important for the CLSA, together with MDT and other partners, to continue to advocate for their human rights, using the Tenure Guidelines and all the other political and legal instruments available to them.

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