Fishers and community members from Dwesa-Cwebe on the Transkei coast plan to hold a meeting on 1 October to discuss access to fishing rights.
The community of Hobeni have sent a memorandum to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and Department of Environmental Affairs in August, demanding the community be allowed access to part of the Marine Protected Area.
“We are raising our concerns and dissatisfaction in the way the government has handled the issue of our benefit from our marine and forest flora and fauna…” wrote the community of Hobeni in the memorandum.
The community wants an interim decision to access the reserve while the community and government are formulating a longer-term decision as to how to manage the reserve.
“We are fishers and mussel harvesters. We harvest resources that live in water. We are also traditional healers… we are a community that believes in culture and tradition,” the memo said.
The community has run out of patience, we are hungry, not only for food but for our spiritual well-being,” fisher leader David Gongqose commented.
The community of Hobeni will be joined by people from Mohasana, Ntubeni, Qatywa, Cwebe and Mendwana.
The communities requested that access to the reserve should be effective as from the first of September 2015.. The community could not wait until the implementation of the Small-Scale Fisheries Policy to access resources.
The communities affected by the closure of the reserve have consistently attempted to lobby the two departments. The People of Dwesa-Cwebe have been fighting for the access to the reserve, legal recognition and justice to prevail.
The struggle for access goes back 15 years and attempts to resolve the matter have not had any positive results.
In 2000 DEAT declared Dwesa-Cwebe a no take Marine Protected Area (MPA) and ordered that fishing would no longer be allowed there.
The following year, the communities in and around Dwesa-Cwebe signed a settlement agreement and co-management arrangement together with the government to manage and benefit from natural resources of the Dwesa Cwebe reserve.
DAFF and the Department of Environment and Economic Affairs and Tourism DEAT/DEAET entered into a 21-year agreement with the communities, recognising community ownership of land sustainable use of resources.
Government has not implemented this agreement.
The communities are saying that ever since the agreement was signed, government has introduced laws limiting their access to the reserve. They no longer benefit from the reserve.. Their customary rights and right to food are not taken into account and they are no longer part of decision-making processes concerning the reserve.
“The case of accessing resources in the reserve has been long standing,” commented Mr Ntsindiso Nongcavu, Chairperson of CLSA in the Eastern Cape.
“Our cries have been ignored by the government for far too long and it is now time that we made our presence felt,” he said.
Fishers, with the support of the Legal Resources Centre and Masifundise Development Trust, are currently engaged in court action to secure a review of the decision to make the MPA a no take one and to secure their customary rights to fish in parts of the MPA.
The fishers say the country’s Constitution did not allow the government to make decisions that take away peoples’ rights without first discussing it with those people.
They said the Minister did not speak to any of the fishers of Dwesa-Cwebe before making this announcement that made them like thieves in their own land when implementation of this decision commenced in 2005.
This matter has dragged for a number of years before the fishers embarked on a legal intervention, insisting that their customary rights allow them to fish for a living.
An information leaflet on the Dwesa-Cwebe situation, that was put out last year, stated;
“The court case has pushed the Minister into action. On Friday, 31 October 2014, the Department of Environmental Affairs came to Dutywa to tell some of the people of Dwesa-Cwebe that they plan to open 11km of the Reserve’s coastline. They then published draft regulations for public comment on 4 November 2014.
“However, while the Minister’s intention is good news, the regulations have many problems. They do not recognise the customary rights of the Dwesa-Cwebe fishing communities; it says nothing about co-management of the Reserve and the MPA; and it places a lot of restrictions on the fishers which will be difficult to implement. Also, the local fishers are not treated better than any recreational fishers. “It is therefore still very important that the court case continues.”
- The fishers are going to court to ask that it make an order:
- That the communities of Dwesa-Cwebe have customary rights to the fishing and forestry resources that must be recognised and protected.
- That all the other fishers who have been arrested were not acting against the law when they were fishing in the MPA and must therefore be found not guilty;
- That the people of Dwesa-Cwebe must be respected and treated as the owners of the MPA and the Reserve. That means that no-one can make decisions about the Reserve without the agreement of the local communities;
- that no Minister can decide that the communities are suddenly not allowed to fish in their own waters;
- That the Minister must make sure that the communities become the co-managers of the resources in the Reserve and the MPA.
Issued by Masifundise Development Trust on behalf of Coastal Links South Africa
For More Information on this issue contact
Mr. David Gongqose CLSA Member in Eastern Cape: 073623888
Mr Ntsindiso Nongcavu – CLSA Eastern Cape Chairperson: 0782069369 or 0735502922
Wilmien Wicomb Legal Resources Centre:072 622 7444