Dear Naren and Meghna, family of Chandrika and ICSF friends,
On Thursday 13 March 2014 friends, comrades and colleagues who know Chandrika Sharma gathered at Masifundise Development Trust in Cape Town, South Africa. We came together to celebrate Chandrika’s life, to share our sadness at the situation and express our hopes, to reflect on how she has touched our lives and to act in solidarity with her family who are going through such a difficult time of uncertainty and loss.
This gathering reflected Chandrika’s long standing and continuing relationship with South African small-scale fisheries and the very deep and profound impact that she has had on us all. Naseegh Jaffer, the Director of Masifundise and the Coordinator of the World Forum of Fisher People opened the coming together by sharing the extent of the bond that has developed between him and Chandrika in their joint role of co-ordinating the international civil society participation in the negotiations for Guidelines for Small-scale Fisheries. Over the past two years Chandrika has provided extraordinary leadership, support and guidance in this process, demonstrating her ability to link the grassroots struggles of fishing communities with international policy processes and leading advocacy activities at this level. This current international work has a long history that goes back in time to the beginning of the small-scale fishers struggles in South Africa. Andy Johnston and Merle Sowman recall their early meetings of Chandrika in the late 1990s when fishers were fighting for legal reforms post apartheid and the impression that she made then of someone with exceptional humility, clarity, knowledge and commitment.
It was in 2002 however that Chandrika first travelled to South Africa and many of the fishermen and women present as well as the Masifundise staff had the opportunity to meet Chandrika. Masifundise hosted an International Fisher’s Forum at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. Over 120 fishers travelled by train to Johannesburg to attend the Summit. Whilst the government processes were exclusionary and disappointing for the fishers, it was the Fisher’s Forum and the opportunity to meet Chandrika and other activists that remains in the fishers’ memories as the highlight of this event. Chandrika encouraged the fishers to mobilise and organise and to network with other international fisherworker organisations. Fishers recall just immediately being made to feel accepted by this petite woman fisher activist from India. On her return to India Chandrika immediately began work linking the Masifundise staff and fisher leaders with other fishers all over the world, she encouraged women fishers from South Africa to speak out through Yemaya and she invited a member of Masifundise staff and a community leader to travel to India to participate in training on international human rights and other instruments in support of fishworkers.
Chandrika’s efforts to link Masifundise and the fishers in South Africa to other fishworkers engaged in struggle and to ICSF’s on-going advocacy work enabled Masifundise and the Artisanal Fishers’ Association of South Africa to draw on a range of international instruments when developing legal argument in support of the fsihers struggles in South Africa. In 2004 the fishers in the Western and Northern Cape launched Coastal Links, a community-based organisation representing fishworkers. Later this year Chandrika travelled to Cape Town to participate in the Southern African Small-scale Fisheries Conference hosted by Masifundise and Coastal Links. Shortly afterwards in 2005 Masifundise and Coastal Links launched legal action against the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism on the grounds that the marine legislation had failed to recognise the small-scale fishers and their rights. The ICSF Secretariat took an active interest in this court case, publishing information about the case in SAMUDRA and informing others about this case. ICSF continued to support Masifundise in a range of its activities; enabling Naseegh Jaffer and Rose Shoshola to travel to India to share information about resource documentation; inviting Jackie Sunde to participate in a review of ICSF’s gender strategy and in linking Masifundise to other fishworker organisations in Southern and Eastern Africa at the ICSF Workshop in Dar es Salaam in 2006 . Masifundise member of staff, Jackie Sunde, became a member of ICSF during this year and together with Chandrika and Ramya, began to explore ways of extending ICSF’s support to women fishworkers in South Africa. Jackie reflected that Chandrika embodies the real integration of head, heart and hands and has an extraordinary ability to work with people from all spectrums of the fisheries sector. Most noticeable, is her ability to rise above the personalities and petty inter-personal struggles in the fisheries sector: she always views the bigger picture and has an ability to focus on the issues that will move the process towards supporting communities in the best way possible, finding ways of taking the group along with her and uniting them, leaving behind differences that could be divisive.
In 2008 ICSF supported the first ever Women Fishworker’s Workshop and also enabled Coastal Links members to travel to Zanzibar to network with other organisations from the Southern and East African Region in preparation for the first ever International Small-scale Fisheries Conference in Bangkok in October 2008. At the Bangkok Conference Naseegh Jaffer was part of the civil society working group tasked with developing the Bangkok Statement which was subsequently adopted by small-scale fishers all over the world and formed the basis for further advocacy towards an international instrument for small-scale fisheries. It is in this context that Serge Raemaerkers met Chandrika and subsequently became an associate member of ICSF. He shared his amazement at how knowledgeable Chandrika is and how she networked with so many people around many issues.
The close relationship that Chandrika has with many individual fisher men and women from coastal communities was shared by a number of people present: Salie Cyster saluted Chandrika’s commitment to the struggle, recalling her on-going respect for him as the first ever Coastal Links Chairperson; Norton Dowries recalled Chandrika’s warmth, her hard work and commitment and her kindness, expressed through her continued encouragement to him through the Christmas card that she sent to him every year without fail since 2002 – this was also fondly noted by Salie and Solene Smith who so appreciated this gesture. Solene shared how she and her husband, Sammy Smith of Langebaan have always remembered Chandrika since the WSSD and Solene was happy to be able to give Chandrika a gift of shells collected from Langebaan when they met again in 2004 in Cape Town.
Nico Waldeck recalled how hard Chandrika worked at the Convention on Biodiversity in Hyderabad, India and how she stayed up long hours assisting him to prepare for the media event the next day. He appreciated her dedication and commitment and used this opportunity to thank all of those around him who have supported the fisher’s struggle as Chandrika has done. Rosie remembered arriving in India in 2010 when she travelled to ICSF’s Gender Agenda Workshop and how welcoming Chandrika was, making her feel at home immediately. Coastal Links National Chairperson, Christiaan Adams, who has not met Chandrika but was moved by the affirmations that those present had shared, and is also aware of the important role that ICSF has played in the sector, shared his determination to draw inspiration from what he has heard about Chandrika and to ensure that the fishers in South Africa move forward in this spirit of ego-lessness, caring and commitment that Chandrika has shown us. This hope was shared by Dawie Cloete, the Chairperson of Coastal Links from the Northern Cape and echoed by the group as a whole.
We would all like to express our deepest solidarity to you, Naren and Meghna and your family, as well as to the ICSF staff, during this very difficult and sad time. We celebrate Chandrika as an extraordinary human being who has touched our lives here in South Africa and we record our deepest expression of respect, appreciation and love for her.
In solidarity and hope
Naseegh Jaffer, Jackie Sunde, Andy Johnston, Merle Sowman, Serge Raemaekers, Solene Smith, Norton Dowries, Salie Cyster, Nico Waldeck, Rosie Shoshola, Mansoor Jaffer, Sithembiso Gwaza, Hahn Goliath, Christiaan Adams, Dawie Cloete, Linda Herman, Yazini Kona,Nomonde Mbunye and Nosipho Singiswa.