Hobeni fishers have given the department of Environmental Affairs 14 days to respond to their request to grant them access to parts of the Dwesa-Cwebe Marine Protected Area.

They made this decision on October 1 at a mass rally in Hobeni, where leaders from seven villages and the provincial chairperson of Coastal Links SA addressed the community.

“Nelson Mandela said the government is for the people but in our case our government has taken from us,” Loli Majambe chairperson of the fisher committees lamented.

“We will wait for a response and a written agreement allowing us to access part of the reserve, if not we will enter the reserve and harvest”.

The mass rally decided that if the government does not respond to their request, on the 23 of October the government will find fishermen and fisherwomen from the communities at the reserve.

Mr Nojambe said that the community has suffered a lot ever since the closure of the reserve. “The government which we have depended on to improve our lives has contributed to the lack of food security in our communities” he says.

The seven villages of Cwebe, Hobeni, Mendwane, Qatywa, Ngoma, Ntubeni and Mpume surrounding the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape, are fed up with the government for continually postponing their court case in which they are attempting to have their right to a decent livelihood restored.

The protest action will be in support of our demand to ‘open the sea’, which has already been started by the community members, who started writing letters to the minister of environmental affairs (DEA).

Other demands of the mass meeting and the march to the ocean include justice for the fisher who was shot and killed by department of Environment Affairs officials, and a request for the opening up of the MPA based on the Interim Relief, according to Sithembiso Gwaza, Masifundise Fieldworker.

Gwaza says that at the moment, the nature reserve is managed by the DEA, and the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries have no say over it.

This means that the local fishing communities cannot apply for fishing permits, and the DEA does not allow the people to fish there.

Fisher David Gongqose says this is unfair, since as the community they have always fished and harvested the natural resources in Dwesa-Cwebe, whether it is marine or other natural resources.

“Our people have always been the custodians of nature, until the government declared the area a nature reserve, made an MPA in the sea, and declared itself to be the custodian of the environment,” says Gongqose.

This he believes is unfair, since it also denied them the right to earn a living as fisherfolk, as small-scale farmers, and to make use of the forests to earn a living.

Gongqose says that they started their court case against the government and the minister of environmental affairs in the High Court in 2010 already, and that the government just keeps on asking for postponements every time the case is to be heard.

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