On 29 May 2023, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment (DFFE) organised a meeting in the Eastern Cape to address issues of harassment and criminalization in fishing communities, with a focus on the shooting incident in Mpume in December 2022. Participants included representatives from the Mpume, Mendwana, Ntubeni, and Ngoma communities, along with organisations like Masifundise, the Legal Resources Centre, and officials from various government levels.

During the meeting, small-scale fisher community representatives raised their concerns about conducting livelihood activities within the Dwesa-Cwebe nature reserve. The shooting of fishers from the Mpume village was highlighted as a significant issue. The department acknowledged the unlawful nature of the shooting and expressed their commitment to prevent such incidents in the future.

DFFE proposed establishing a Marine Protected Area (MPA) Advisory Committee, a co-management like structure that would include local communities, traditional authority, DFFE, ECPTA, CPA and other relevant stakeholders aligned to the nature reserve. This committee would deal with instances of harassment and managing the reserve.

However, the communities present were dissatisfied with the department’s lack of commitment to addressing violence and criminalization against small-scale fishers. The DFFE seemed unwilling to answer direct questions on the shooting incident and still do not have a full understanding of the legislature that allows small-scale fishers to access the reserve, leading to frustration among the communities.

Sibongiseni Gwebani from Masifundise explains “It is clear that the department has a very shallow understanding of the Gongqose judgement. The customary rights of these 7 communities have yet to be realized despite numerous attempts to create understanding with DFFE.”

Moreover, the department could not provide clarity on permits and an update on cooperatives lists and the review of the MLRA process. These unresolved issues added to the community’s concerns and dissatisfaction with the meeting’s outcome.

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