KENNETH George, the fisher, who together with Masifundise, Coastal Links South Africa (CLSA) and other fishers took the government to the Equality Court in 2006 to secure rights for small-scale fishers, SSFP), says that he is disappointed, heart-broken and devastated that his name is not on the list of provisional fishers released by the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) on October 21, 2016.
“I feel betrayed, and I have appealed against my exclusion, because it is my right,” said George, as he looked over the bay for fish from the mountains above Simonstown.
Fishers who are registered on the final lists will qualify to be part of a collective legal entity which will granted fishing rights, in terms of the small-scale fisheries policy.
An Equality Court judge in 2007 declared that a policy must be developed for small-scale fishing communities and that in the interim, while the policy will be developed the government should make sure that fishers get temporary rights which will help to sustain them until the policy gets implemented.
“At that time, I worked for another fisher at Klein Vishoek, and the judge ordered that 50 fishers from Klein Vishoek and Fish Hoek who do trek-net fishing on these beaches be given Interim Relief (IR) in the form of 30 ton yellow tail per year,” said George.
This was a right that seemed to have also eluded George, because the person that he worked with at Klein Vishoek did not want to allow other people to come and fish at Klein Vishoek.
On the other hand the fisher at Fish Hoek felt that he also had a legitimate right to catch on the IR permit, as it is his crew that are entitled to the 30 ton yellow tail.
“They fought with each other, and because we did not have the gear and equipment to catch the fish, and my boss did not want others to fish at Klein Vishoek, we never caught any fish on that IR permit.”
Since 2007, George kept on working at Klein Vishoek, until the rights holder he worked for passed away a few years ago, and today, George’s hunting grounds are just a desolated beach with, a few dilapidated sheds and broken boats that is decaying on the beach.
George never managed to get a permanent job after the rights holder passed away, and for the last few years he had to rely on casual jobs like the one he had on the day of this interview.
George is a joint rights holder of an IR permit that they never exercised, and approached DAFF this year again to see if their IR permit can be re-activated, and he is still awaiting an answer.
George describes his job as a land-skipper, his work demands skill, discipline and a lot of concentration, for an ordinary person, it seems quite amazing, that someone can see from such a far distance the fish in the water, and on top of it say what type of fish it is.
“We only look for the fish that is quite near to the beach, in the water that is blue, the water further in is darker and the fish cannot be seen.”
Some fish, like the Steenbras, George and his team cannot catch, so he has to be accurate in what fish are in the bay, because should they target the Steenbras by mistake, they will have to put it back into the water.
George grew up in Klein Vishoek, right opposite the beach where he has been fishing all these years.
“I was born in 1953 since a child I have been catching fish, sometimes when I was late for school, I would take a bunch of fish to school for my teachers to get out of trouble.”
In the late 1960s, when George was a teenager, his community was uprooted by the apartheid government through the Group Areas Act and was forcibly removed to Ocean View, a place a far distance from Klein Vishoek.
From the mountain, George points to two buildings and said: “There is where I went to school, St Francis Primary School and Arsenal High School.”
One is a small building and the other a little bigger with a few double-storey buildings, both devoid of any life, having been taken over by the Navy.
“For many generations we have been fishers, my father, his father and grandfathers were all fishers before me, you can say the salt of the sea run through my veins,” said George as he swallowed back the disappointment of being excluded from the provisional list.
“When we were moved to Ocean View, it was a great disappointment for our families, my dad was a fisher and he and he made sure that he was at the sea every day, traveling by bicycle from Ocean View, and sometimes he will give me a lift to Klein Vishoek.”
George remembers the days when it was not necessary to have permits to fish, and that they could just go out to sea and fish, but later permits and rights were introduced, causing a lot of misery within fishing communities.
He also remembers how he was trained as a fish spotter, and said that it was not easy to learn the skills from the older people.
“The older people had a different way about themselves; they were tough, rough and did not have patience in teaching you. Hitting you and swearing at you was the hard ways in which they taught us during those days.”
“For now we are teaching the younger people the traditions that were taught to us by our fathers, not in the same hard way, but we firmly believe in passing our traditions on, and when we are not there anymore, our traditions will live on in the new generation of fishers.”
George, who is now in his early sixties, now lives in Red Hill, a small informal settlement on the mountains above Simonstown, a very difficult place to live in, especially if you do not have a proper job, a steady income, your own transport or money to pay for transport on a regular basis.
Travelling is difficult if you do not have money, you will have to walk long distances up and down the mountain to go and look for work.
George lives now for more than 30 years in Red Hill, with his wife and youngest son, who is now also starting to work as a fisher, and George says he intends also training his son as a fish spotter.
For more than 30 years George has also been waiting for a house, which might happen in the near future, but, like the SSFP, it also seems to elude him, for now.
For now, George anxiously awaits the outcomes of the appeal that he lodged, and hopes that DAFF will give him the recognition he deserves as a real fisher.