Umhlaba wethu, Nesihlati, elwandle lethu, – Our lands, our forests and our seas are under threat and our rights are being impacted. We as Coastal Links Eastern Cape say that we have historically depended on our lands and forests along the coast, on the sea and the ocean for our food and our livelihoods. We have a close relationship with the sea as it sustains and feeds our families. It is the source of our food security and our livelihoods. Our use of marine resources are part of our culture and our customary way of life. The ocean is not just an economy but it is also our culture and our heritage (Elwandle impilo ne lifa lethu – the sea is our heritage).
This was the message that came from the two-days Coastal Links Eastern Cape PEC, held on the 12th-14th of September in Mazeppa Bay. Twenty Coastal Links leaders gathered to discuss the key challenges facing small-scale fishing and coastal communities in the Province and to develop a plan of action in response.
The meeting started on a very powerful note with the leaders welcoming the arrival of six representatives of King Zwelonke Sigcawu. CL EC leaders illustrated the problems that they faced in the light of the DAFF and DEA’s refusal to recognise their customary rights and the State’s launch of Operation Phakisa. From their lack of permits to access marine resources, to the lack of respect for their land claim settlement agreements and the threat of mining, coastal communities’ rights to their land, their forests and their seas are being violated.
Coastal Links leaders emphasised to the representatives of the Royal Household that they are treated as second class citizens and government has failed to consult them or to include their needs in the Integrated Development Plans of their municipalities. They are tired of government prioritising the commercial fishing companies and recreational fishers over them. They also expressed their concern regarding the new Marine Spatial Planning Bill and how it will place a great deal of power in the hands of the Minister and the DG. Leaders called for further consultation at a local level before this draft legislation is passed.
The King’s representatives encouraged the leaders to write a letter and request the King to engage the Minister on the recognition of their customary rights. The meeting agreed that they would give the Minister 30 days to respond, failing which they will go to sea to feed their families, irrespective of whether they have permits or not.
Over the two-days meeting the leaders debated what was the most strategic response to the problems that they faced. The CL Eastern Cape PEC developed a plan of action to deepen local action and strengthen their branches. They agreed to launch a process of documenting their histories, their community stories and their customary systems of resource use through a community profiling process. They will then use this to identify key advocacy issues and actions to address these issues.
In addition to writing to the King, the leaders wrote a letter to the Minister Zokwana requesting him to address the discriminatory situation with their permits and to recognise their customary rights. They also wrote letters to the Speaker of the National Council of Provinces and the Eastern Cape Legislature asking for local level hearings on the Marine spatial planning bill. They also wrote to the new Deputy Director of Department of Environmental Affairs, requesting engagement on the Marine Spatial Planning Bill as well as the need for a high level engagement with the Minister of DAFF regarding the rights of small-scale fishing communities in relation to Marine protected Areas.
The PEC members visited Gcina, a local community that is dependent on the sea and their forests for their livelihoods. Here, they heard stories from the community about the way in which their rights to their natural resources were being violated. Currently they do not have permits to access the sea as their permits have expired. Several women have recently faced arrest as a result.
CL Eastern Cape leadership encouraged the Gcina community to embark on a process of documenting their histories, their stories and to undertake a community profile. They explained to the community of the advantages of such a profile. Mr David Gongqose spoke about his experience of being part of a community profiling process in Dweas-Cwebe and how his community used this in court to argue that they have customary rights. The Gcina community were excited at the possibility of undertaking a similar process and elected a committee of ten to engage on the community profile.
The leaders of CL Eastern Cape say that they are tired of being left behind. They have planned a series of actions leading up to International Fisheries Day on 21 November. On this date, they will demonstrate their solidarity with small-scale fishers’ worldwide and ensure that Coastal Links Eastern Cape’s voices will be heard across the country.