A decade ago, several small-scale fishing communities embarked on collective action that changed the course of fisheries in South Africa.

The exclusion of the sector from rights allocations in 2004, led to court and mass action by the fishers, who were led by Masifundise and Coastal Links.

“Fisher’s had a common purpose. There was one thing on our minds, access to rights and marine resources” recalls Nico Waldeck, Masifundise’s staff member.

The fishers approached the Equality Court in 2005, a decade ago. The following year, the fishers won a historic victory when the Court ordered the formulation of a small-scale fisheries policy that would give the sector legal recognition and fishery rights.

The SSF policy was finally adopted in 2012 and the MLRA amended in 2014 in order to allow for the policy to be implemented.

“We wanted legal recognition for small-scale fishers and we mobilised fishing communities for this to happen,” commented Masifundise Director Naseegh Jaffer.

“If the state was not going to give the fishers their rights, we were willing to escalate community mobilisation through mass action of various forms,” continued Jaffer, “we were going to increase ungovernability  of fishing harbours and maybe even promote illegal fishing of small-scale fishers because of rights, skills and other ways of earning a living”.

It took ten long years for the policy to be formulated and adopted and for laws to be amended to allow for the policy’s implementation to take place. Preparations are currently being made for implementation to take place and it is due to start in 2016.

Masifundise and Coastal Links were supported by partners such as the Legal Resources Centre and PLAAS.

THE HOOK will start a series next week about the equality court action and the process that followed. Some of the key role-players in this process will provide insight into the struggle for human rights by small-scale fishers, the policy that resulted and the challenges that still need to be navigated.

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