21 March marked the annual Human Rights day in South Africa. This day provided the important opportunity to reflect on progress made on the advancement and protection of human rights as well as confront the failures.

Masifundise and Coastal Links South Africa (CLSA), together with partners and allies, carried out a campaign that was both digital and physical in nature to highlight the many human rights injustices facing small-scale fishers in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Small-scale fishing activities are an integral part of many coastal and inland communities. They represent a significant source of income and form part of their livelihoods. Local communities have been harvesting resources from the coasts and oceans for decades, and fishing is part of their culture, identity, and heritage. On Human Rights Day we were reminded that the fight for the realisation of these rights continued.

Fishing communities all along the coasts demonstrated using placards and signs to highlight the following:

  • That small-scale fishers are not supported in any way with infrastructure, petrol subsidies, access to markets and other measures. This undermines the important role small-scale fishers play as food providers and in creating and ensuring livelihoods in coastal communities.
  • The criminalisation of inland fishing communities by local law enforcement agencies.
  • The lack of recognition for customary rights that has contributed to many challenges faced by fishers. Small-scale fishers are continually being prohibited from entering their traditional fishing grounds and securing their livelihoods. The promotion of customary rights is one of the founding principles of the Small-scale Fisheries Policy but is not implemented.
  • That fishing rights are intrinsically linked to human rights. The recognition of these rights are enshrined in the South African constitution and the failure to uphold them will result in the erasure of traditional and cultural practices that sustain fishing communities.