Keurkieskloof, a small community of about 200 families and about 800 people has been in existence for more than 40 years, and was established with the building of the then Vander Kloof Dam (at that time the P.K. Le Roux Dam).
“The people of Keurkieskloof were specifically settled here by the then apartheid government to help with the building of the Vanderkloof Dam,” says Raphael Benadie, newly elected chairperson of the Fishers Committee in Keurkieskloof.
In Keurkieskloof there are about 40 fishers who sternly believe that they are forced to break the law in order to survive.
They refer to the fact that since about three years ago the manager at the Vanderkloof Dam has decided to put up gates all over the dam to prevent them from fishing the kraals from which they have been earning sustainable incomes for more than 40 years.
Keurkieskloof falls under the Renosterberg Municipality, and the poverty and neglect is everywhere visible in this small community.
“Of all the teachers at the local primary school, all are white except for one, and none are employed from the local community, and the same goes for the clinic in the community, according to some of the members of the local fishing committee.
“Teachers, who grew up in this community, have to go and teach in other places, and when it is school holidays, they come back here, especially during the December school holidays.”
Very little facilities exist within this community, the local sports field they say are full of stones and the roof of the stadium was blown off by strong wind and has not been replaced since.
“The Local Municipality is experiencing difficulties and are selling off some its facilities to meet its financial shortfalls.”
According to the fishers, they are now busy selling off the local swimming pool which is located in Vander Kloof, and the only swimming pool that the Keurkieskloof residents have for recreation.
Keurkieskloof fishers fish together with fishers from Petrusville, Luckhof and Philipstown at the Vanderkloof Dam.
“There are three kraals at Vanderkloof. When the sluices of the dam opens, it releases a lot of water and the water and fish lands up in the kraals.”
Fishers says when the water subsides, the water moves out of the kraals and fish stays behind, the fishers then moves in and empty the kraals.
The kraal producing the most bounty are Kraal No 1, the one located nearest to the sluices, and can produce up to 300 fish at a time and the sluices are opened twice a day.
Fishers also do angling and the types of fish they catch include the largemouth yellowfish, the small mouth yellow fish, barber, carp and the mudfish.
They use both flour and mielies and worms as a form of bait to lure the fish to their hooks. The residents of Keurkieskloof mainly come from Petrusville and other surrounding communities.
They say that the kraal fishing method is an age old fishing method that has been practised by their forefathers.
When they settled here to come and build the dam, the Keurkieskloof residents started to construct the kraals, and got their kraals to be filled by the opening of the sluices of the Gariep Dam that was about 45km away.
Ever since then, for more than 40 years, the fishers have been harvesting fish at the Vanderkloof Dam, but three years ago, the fishers allege that gates were put up at various points along the dam.
This coincided with the arrival with current manager at the dam, who also happens to be under suspension at present.
Fishers also started to experience pressure from the Vanderkloof police who started fining them, confiscating their fish and breaking down their kraals.
Fishers, on the other hand are starting to feel a bit more confident about the future.
They have started to set a committee to organise themselves to take up their struggle for sustainable livelihoods, following in the footsteps of the fishers of Petrusville and Luckhof.
On the other hand a Task Team consisting of local communities and fishers organisations and government departments are looking into setting up a project into creating sustainable livelihoods for communities making a living off the Vanderkloof Dam.
They are also looking into access to the river and the dam and its resources, and the current problems fishers are experiencing and how to find solutions to these problems.