Social challenges amidst the beauty

Arniston is a small seaside settlement in the Overberg region on the Cape South coast, close to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa.

Previously it was known as Waenhuiskrans, an Afrikaans name meaning literally “Wagon house cliff”, after a local sea cave large enough to accommodate a wagon and a span of oxen.

At first only a fishing community, Arniston has become a holiday destination and its hinterland a region for viticulture. The fishing village, characterized by its lime-washed and thatched houses, remains unspoiled and has been declared a national monument in its entirety. Fishermen still go to sea in boats of the style that would have been familiar to locals in the early nineteenth century, although now under contract to larger commercial enterprises.

“Arniston has a very strong historical background which can be used to promote tourism and create employment for community members,” comments Rowina Martinus, a Coastal Links South Africa  member in Arniston.

The area around Arniston has a long and interesting history. Middens and other archaeological evidence suggest that people lived in the area from time to time from as long as three thousand years ago. In more recent times the evidence suggests that there was at times interaction between the intermittent nomadic communities and shipwreck survivors. Around 1850 five families settled in the area to fish. By 1870 they were joined by another 30 families.

In 1905 the landowners told the fishing community to go, but the fishing community protested in a petition to the then Cape Governor General. In a settlement that followed the farmers sold 10 morgen to the community for the token price of one shilling and Kassiesbaai was established.

The fishing village of Kassiesbaai is at the core of the Waenhuiskrans Cultural Landscape, a Grade 1 National Site. It is the only surviving historical fishing village in South Africa.

In 1932, the Wagenhuiskrantz Vissersunie (Fishermen’s Union) was established as a vehicle to hold the title deed of the communal property.

In the 1970s conservationists and the fishing community joined hands when the local authority wanted to demolish the then badly neglected village and move the community. The village was declared a national monument and was renovated.

Limitations on fishing activities have seen a dwindling in income derived from this source by the community. Government-allocated fishing quotas have become smaller and more difficult to come by as fish stocks became depleted.

A Coastal Links South Africa branch has been operating in the village for over 10 years, Anthony Engel, who has been a member of the branch and a fisherman confirms that stocks have indeed depleted.

“This has been caused by a number of things, we have trawlers passing by our area and an organisation that tests weapons in our waters” says Anthony.

“We happen to be affected whenever these tests happen in our waters as we cannot go to sea,” he continues.

Fishermen without a source of income in a small village far removed from industrial infrastructure have little alternative access to income. Out of 1 400 adults in the village, less than 100 derive a sustainable income from fishing now.

Some 300 have some form of income as housekeepers or as employees at the hotel or at guesthouses.

“You really cannot say that is proper income for people,” says Marthinus, “people get paid about  R100 and R150 a day and work can be very scarce if it is not the festive season,” she continues.

A small number of the residents work in permanent positions away from Arniston. Others work periodically on various local government and other projects.

“Arniston can be developed but local politics and racial segregation is causing havoc in our community,” Marthinus laments.

Michelle Joshua, Masifundise’s field workers stated that Arniston needs strong and older community members to take back the town and challenge the young people from Arniston to positively develop the community.

Information derived from:,_Western_Cape

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