A group of fisher women from the Lamberts Bay community on the West Coast set up a company many years ago and got fishing rights. About four years ago they sold their permit, on advice. A judge later cancelled the agreement of sale. Now the respondents have applied for leave to appeal.

Masifundise is deeply concerned at what has transpired and believes that empowerment of vulnerable groups needs to be done comprehensively so that they able to enjoy sustainable livelihoods for many generations.

Below we share an article that appeared in one of the titles of Independent Newspapers last week.

The piece provides more detail on what has allegedly transpired.

Lamberts Bay women to benefit

by Zenzile Khoisan

LYA LOUW is very much like any ordinary woman in any of the fishing hamlets on the Western Cape coast – one whose primary institutional memory is associated with the sea.

On Women’s Day tomorrow, she and the surviving founding members of a fishing company they set up in 1996 are celebrating a court victory that puts control back in their hands.

It’s been a long road.

After the new government came to power in the country’s first democratic elections, the fisheries branch of the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries formulated a strategy to transform the fishing industry, and to empower the poor and previously disadvantaged on whose backs many white-owned fishing companies made great profits.

Like many of the thousands who, for years, had enjoyed only marginal benefits from the sea, the communities of Lambert’s Bay also put forward their case for inclusion in the transformation policy.

Some applied for quotas, or fishing rights, while others formed themselves into small companies through which the administration and the actual business of procuring and marketing marine resources could be conducted.

Louw worked for many years at the local fish factory, and faced with a bleak future, she applied to Marine and Coastal Management for a quota to help her family.

Together with nine other elderly women, she formed Meermin Visserye CC as the vehicle to uplift their lives, thanks to a small but lucrative right allocated to the entity.

“When we discovered that the government had made provision to help the poor people and give us some rights in the fishing sector, I went to get the forms and we were all very excited when we discovered that we had been successful. So we had great dreams of uplifting ourselves from poverty,” the elderly woman said.

They set up Meermin Visserye CC in 1996, and were awarded an initial four-year quota, effective from June 1998.

However, because the government was aware that the new entrants lacked the infrastructure to fully benefit from their quotas, it created legal mechanisms for the small industry players to conclude agreements which allowed others, for a fee, to fish and market the products on their behalf.

Meermin was then approached by Ricky Donaggi, of Saldanha, to catch their fish.  At the time Donaggi represented a company, MVB Atlantic Fishing Enterprises Proprietary Limited.

Between 1998 and 2008 Meermin Visserye CC and Donaggi signed several contracts. A range of companies were represented by Donaggi.

Meanwhile the government granted long-terms rights to these new entrants which, ideally, would enable them, over time, to build up their infrastructure, gain business experience, and become self-sufficient and successful participants in the fishing industry.

In 2006 Meermin Visserye, as a beneficiary of this policy, was awarded a 15-year quota for sardines and anchovy.

From their own accounts, since their founding this company, they went through a turbulent time – and thanks to middlemen, industry players and the courts, their dream of success was wrecked.

It is apparent, by their own admission, that the women made many mistakes, both with the agreements they concluded and with their own inability to conduct their business in a manner that would ensure long-term sustainability.

Then, four years ago they engaged top industry consultant Shaheen Moolla and his Feike consultancy to represent Meermin Visserye, the agreement recorded in a resolution dated August 20, 2012.

What followed is that the members of Meermin Visserye ended up selling their interests to one Ashraf Davids and to Moola’s wife, Shereen Mathir, for R4 million.

This is recorded by Louw in her founding affidavit, confirmed by the other members of Meermin Visserye, in the case against the initial purchasers, and Davids’ father, Alie Davids, who had become the sole |proprietor.

The affidavit reads, in part: “Our plight must obviously have become known in industry circles because we were approached by Mr Shaheen Moola, who is also the husband of the second respondent and who wanted us to sell our fishing permit.

“Mr Moola is a former official of the Department of Sea Fisheries and a well-known personality in the fishing sector. In fact the applicants mostly had contact with Mr Moola and to some extent with the first respondent, but never dealt with the second respondent who is effectively unknown to us.

“It is obvious that Mr Moola caused the agreement of sale to be concluded in the name of his wife, the second respondent herein.

“We were eventually persuaded by Mr Moola as well as the first respondent to sell our fishing permit, which resulted in the conclusion of the agreement of sale.”

Ashraf Davids, the first respondent in the case, denied the contents of this paragraph, but made the following reference in his answering affidavit: “During the course of 2013 (Lambert’s Bay chartered accountant) Mr Cilliers communicated regularly with Mr Shaheen Moola, who served as transaction and legal adviser concerning various matters concerning the administration of Meermin Visserye CC’s affairs.”

Johanna Kamfer, another of the founders, said she was relieved when Acting Judge Chuma Cossie, who presided in the matter, cancelled the agreement of sale.

Although the respondents have applied for leave to appeal the judgment, which also ordered that the members’ interests be returned along with the proceeds of the 2013 catches, Kamfer believes that their victory is bittersweet.

“Three of the women have passed away and one of our original members is very sick, so with this court victory we are also left with great sadness,” she said.

Kamfer explained that the women had visited Maria Johanna Atkins, another of Meermin’s founding members, before the judgment was handed down in October.

“One of the last things she asked us was if we would see justice one day,” Kamfer said.

Despite the fact that the respondents in that matter have now applied for leave to appeal, they have renewed hope that the tide has turned in their favour.

Walking over to the boat lying in the front of her home, Louw says she believes that things have changed for the better.

But she cuts a vulnerable figure alone out there.

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