Struggles for decent livelihoods amidst scenic beauty
The Hook regularly releases articles focusing on communities where Coastal Links South Africa (CLSA) has members. In this week’s edition of The Hook, we take a look at the community of Stilbaai.
Stilbaai is a scenic town situated along the southern coast of South Africa, about 300km from Cape Town. It is also known as the Bay of Sleeping Beauty and is part of the Hessequa Local Municipality in the Western Cape. The little seaside village lies on an estuary where the Goukou River meets the Indian Ocean.
Stilbaai boasts Lappiesbaai beach, which has been awarded Blue Flag status and is the only beach to claim this mark of distinction between Hermanus and Jeffreys Bay.
According to Wikipedia (2016) Stilbaai has “a rich marine life in the river estuary and a remarkably large variety of bird life attracted to the abundance of indigenous fauna and flora”.
Just outside the town are two villages Jongensfontein and Melkhoutfontein home to the descendants of the original fishermen of the area who are still involved in fishing and the building industry today.
Mr Ronnie Gelant, 49, a Coastal Links South Africa member, was on a boat at sea, when The Hook called him.
“The South Easter is blowing, so I cannot hear so well,” he said during the short interview “I have fished for more than 30 years.”
He said that he and others had joined CLSA last year after meeting with Michelle Joshua from Masifundise (the NGO). Most of them were currently working for commercial fishermen as they did not have fishing rights.
Coastal Links South Africa, has a membership of over 100 fishers in Stilbaai and the two villages. Melkhoutfontein is the latest branch from the South Coast to have joined the movement.
“Melkhoutfontein, only joined CLSA in 2015, they are a young branch yet a very proactive one,” commented Michelle Joshua, Masifundise’s field worker in the south coast.
“We officially welcomed the branch in this year’s Annual General meeting held in May,” she continued.
The town also has fish traps that have been in existence for a few thousand years. They were originally built by the Khoisan up to 3000 years ago.
“Most of the fish traps are shaped in a half moon and vary in size. Early cave dwellers noticed that fish got caught in the natural tidal pools as the tide receded they then enlarged these pools by packing stone in strategic areas.”
“Packing the walls of the fish trap is a precise job and today only a handful of men are capable of doing it. The seaward side slopes gently to make it easy for the fish to swim into the trap,” according to the Stilbaai Blog.
Each pond has its own name, often reflecting its efficacy for example, there’s “Alleroudste” (oldest of all and still regarded as the best ever), “Wonderwerk” (miracle), “Niksvanger” (nothing catcher), “Krom Knie” (crooked knee), “Sny Brood” (slice of bread), and a host of others.
A number of active locals ensure that this fishing traditions continues and the best time to see the ponds in action is during the winter months, for winter time is prime harvest time!
Galant said that they were not allowed to use the traps and they hoped this would change. Currently the fishers go out on boats. “We catch Kabeljou, red fish and yellow tail,” he said.