The traditional fisher and champion of rights for small-scale fishers died on the 11 of April at his home. He suffered from stomach-related illness. He was 57.
Mr Blaauw came to prominence in 2008 when he was the main respondent in a case fought on behalf of small-scale fishers in the High Court. This followed a court application by Industry who asserted that the Minister of Fisheries had no right to give lobster fishing rights to a sector (artisanal fishers) that did not exist in law. They said only recreational, subsistence and commercial sectors had legal status. Industry cited more than a thousand names of poor fishers who were on Interim Relief at the time. They argued that these fishers were not entitled to receive fishing rights.
Blaauw presented an affidavit in this matter, on behalf of the 1245 small-scale fishers. The High court ruled in favour of Blaauw and the group, stating that the Minister was correct to award the fishing rights.
This was a great victory for the small-scale fishers since they would have been destitute without fishing rights, unable to make a living. Had the decision gone the other way, Industry would have further monopolised resources and very importantly, it would have struck a big blow to the unfolding Small-scale fisheries policy that was finally adopted last year. It would consequently have set back the struggle to have small-scale fishers recognised in law.
The SSF policy marks a dramatic shift from the past, giving the sector legal recognition, moving away from the destructive individual rights to a collective rights model and providing a framework for greater empowerment and equity for small-scale fishing communities.
“Kenneth Blaauw has made a huge contribution to the cause of small-scale fishers countrywide,” said Naseegh Jaffer, Director of Masifundise Development Trust. “We must ensure that his struggle is taken forward until the policy becomes lived reality in the lives of fishers around the coast,” he added.
A member of Coastal Links South Africa (CLSA), Mr Blaauw was part of the organisation since its inception in Langebaan in 2004.
“He was a man of not so many words, peaceful and happy and he liked to sing,” said Norton Dowries, a fellow fisherman from Langebaan. “Kenneth, is what you call a true fisherman,” he continued.
Blaauw began fishing when he was in high school, following in the footsteps of his father; he began his journey in fishing as a trek netter. After school, he would go to the beach with other boys and watch as the older men came back from sea.
Blaauw attended Langebaan English Church School and then he went to Schoonspruit High in Malmesbury. He completed Grade 9 before starting life as a fisherman.
Starting off as a trek netter during his teenage years, he also worked as “whaler” on a whaling boat and caught linefish, west coast rock lobster and snoek. He used to travel as far as Laaiplek to catch fish but was always a resident of Langebaan.
Health difficulties did not deter Blaauw from pursuing basic rights for all fishers. Despite his persistent efforts to advance the fishers’ struggle, Blaauw himself was a struggling fisherman at the time of his death and did not get to experience the rights that are pending in terms of the Small-scale fisheries policy.
“The name Kenneth Blaauw should be remembered and noted in the history of South African-Small-Scale Fisheries, “said Masifundise’s Michelle Joshua. “Though almost a decade has passed since Kenneth’s case was won, we are still working towards getting the SSF policy implemented and its intended vision realised. We should continue to lobby that the implementation of the policy benefit the traditional fishers first!! Long live the memory of Kenneth Blaauw,” she added.
“It is sad to hear that yet another fisher passed on without tasting the fruits of their struggle,” commented Nico Waldeck of Masifundise. “As Masifundise and Coastal Links South Africa, we need to press harder for the implementation of the SSF policy,” he said.
Mr Blaauw made it possible for South-Africa Small scale fishers to have a policy today. Masifundise and Coastal Links South Africa would like to pass their heartfelt condolences to his family and wish that his soul rests in peace.
Masifundise has expressed its sadness at the passing of “a fishers’ champion” who “practised solidarity” in his daily life. “His passing is a great loss to his family, the community of Langebaan and the broader small-scale fisheries community,” said Masifundise. “May his soul rest in peace.”
Mr Blaauw leaves behind his partner, two sons and two daughters.
His service was held in Langebaan, NG (Dutch Reform) Church.