Tristan’s impressions of Coastal Links

As an intern working with Masifundise, for the summer, I was honored to accompany Coastal Links as the Executive Committee checked in with communities from Port Nolloth to Pearly Beach.  Asked to write an account of my observations, I would like to first take this opportunity to thank all of the communities and community leaders along the road. You were gracious hosts and I learned an immense amount from seeing you do your great work. From above the many meetings, I observed the central guiding principle of Coastal Links and Masifundise: they are fundamentally a grassroots organization.

Throughout the roadshow, I was continuously impressed and encouraged by the degree to which the fisher people themselves, young and old, men and women, stood up to voice and confront head-on the hard conflicts that they and their communities are facing day-to-day, and working together to find practical solutions to them. As they both highlighted successes and aired grievances, the fisher people clearly realized both the necessity and the incredible power of community organizing and individual and communal dedication to bring about change, and I do not envy those politicians or policy makers who underestimate the strength and legitimacy of these communities. There were many common trends throughout the meetings, as well as communities that stood out for some exceptional issue or ingenious solution.

Doringbaai continues to make great strides in their development of their cooperative while also learning how to work productively together within it, setting an encouraging example for many fishing communities up and down the coast. Places like Lamberstbaai are finding ways to save for the off-season and their example is spreading by word-of-mouth and directly through the Executive Committee to other communities like Ebenhaeser that are anxious to find ways to guard against financial insecurity and admirably making progress towards that goal. The Coastal Links Executive Committee heard many requests, as in Buffeljagsbaai, Elandsbaai, Hondeklipbaai, and Kleinmond, for finding ways to involve the youth, women and recently unemployed members of the community in the fishing industry, and the Executive Committee emphasized that the new Small-Scale Fisheries policy provides specifically for these groups’ involvement. the Executive Committee encouraged many communities to take initiative in ensuring that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (DAFF) does not issue permits to those who don’t fish, and that those who fish are issued a permit, making sure to send constant feedback to the department so that there is no excuse for inequitable results, and it is clear that many communities are answering the call. Further, many encouraging and innovative ideas were put forward by fishers as solutions to their persistent problems.

One example was in Kleinmond, where a fisher suggested that the Road Accident Fund, a fund to aid victims of road accidents that is fueled by a gas tax, should also pertain to fishers who use a huge amount of petrol themselves and risk their lives every day in the exercise of their livelihood. Similarly, in Ebenhaeser, the community demonstrated a strong interest in contributing to the Peter Cloete relief fund, another fund hoping to support accident victims. This kind of proactive and community support-oriented thinking is precisely the right kind to advance the development of the small-scale fishing communities, and it was a stirring sight to see. But there are still challenges facing Coastal Links and the fishers it serves – issues of organization and communication, leadership and member commitment, governmental negligence and broken policies. It seems to me never more important than today to keep focused, to renew the dedication that has brought the fishers’ cause so far; dedication to the idea that fishers can and will rise above their differences and disagreements to work together for a sustainable and more prosperous future for them and the generations to come.

This roadshow impressed upon me how far Masifundise and Coastal Links have come, how far they have still to go, and the certainty that they will reach their goal.

Tristan McCormick, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, US

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