David G_Hobeni

David Gongqose fishing at the Mbhashe river

Dwesa-Cwebe lies between East London and Port St Johns (Eastern Cape) divided into Cwebe to the east and Dwesa to the south-west of the Mbhashe River.

The Dwesa-Cwebe Marine Protected Area (MPA), stretches 14 km along the length of the two reserves, three to five kilometres inland, and six nautical miles out to sea.

Hobeni is a village in the Mbhashe Local Municipality located in Dwesa-Cwebe. It is uniquely known for being the first fishing community in South Africa to be legally recognised by the Supreme Court for their customary rights.

For fishers living in and around Hobeni, the MPA in the area presents challenges of access to the traditional fishing grounds of small-scale fishing communities.  The MPA creates a direct barrier for fishing communities to secure their livelihoods.

It was established in 1991 and revised again in 2001 and 2016. The MPA was established without the consultation or participation of local fishing communities and ignored their customary system of marine governance.

In 2012, David Gongqose, Siphumile Windase and Nkosiphendule Juza were charged with entering the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve without authorization and fishing or attempting to fish in a no take zone of the Marine Protected Area (MPA). This directly violated the Marine Living Resources Act 1998 (MLRA) which prevents fishing in an MPA.

In 2018, the Bloemfontein Supreme Court ruled that the establishment of the Dwesa-Cwebe MPA did not extinguish the customary access rights of coastal communities to their marine resources.

Although this was a major victory, this did not mean that anyone from Hobeni or Dwesa-Cwebe could go and fish, it meant that members of the community who are recognised as fishers and harvesters by their communities in terms of customary law, may do so.

A challenge this community will face is that the government does not allow the customary communities to identify the fishers and harvesters that they know and recognise as customary users.

Government has refused to wholly recognise and implement the Gongqose Judgement that prioritises the customary rights of the coastal villages of Dwesa-Cwebe and as a result, small-scale fishing communities and those who depend on natural resources. This means that often the fishers and harvesters with customary rights are left off the list recognised by the government’s permits and other people are added.

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