Petronella ‘Mara’ Bezuidenhout from Petrusville says that she has been catching fish at the Van der Kloof Dam, since she was a small girl in Standard 2 (Grade 4).
Her greatest influence in fishing has been her mother, who was a keen fisher and taught her all the tricks of fishing.
Mara was born in Richmond, near Beaufort West in the Western Cape, and grew up in Petrusville, a small town near the Van der Kloof Dam in the Northern Cape.
“When I was still a baby, my parents relocated to Petrusville, when my father came to help with the building of the Dam, and later worked at the dam until he retired,” said Mara.
Her father was never a fisher, but together with other workers at the dam, started to build the fish kraals that still exist to this day, and from which the small scale fishers of Keurtjieskloof, Petrusville, Philipstown and Luckhoff in the Free State harvest fish on a daily basis.
“My mother taught me how to catch fish, how to prepare the bait, how to set the hooks on the line and how to cast the line into the water.”
The town is small, and its overall size is about 58.60 km², and it has a population of 5211 (88.93 per km²), and a total of 1322 (22.56 per km²) households. More than 63% of people are Afrikaans speaking and about 30% of people have Xhosa as their first language. (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrusville)
Petrusville is a poor community with a high unemployment rate, and Mara said that a high percentage of people of working age are unemployed.
“Most of the young people from Van der Kloof are forced to go to other places like the big cities of Cape Town, Kimberley, and Johannesburg to go and find work.”
On the other hand, Mara said that the older people and some other people in the community survive on government grants like pension and disability grants, and that these grants play a big role in helping many households to survive every month.
“The young people of today are not like the previous generations, they drink and have lots of parties when they get jobs in the big cities, and then they forget about their parents and families that are struggling at home.”
“I thank the Lord for those young people who still care about their parents and their families who are struggling in Petrusville, and who send money home every month to their parents, who in some cases are old and cannot take care of themselves anymore.”
Mara said that other means of survival for members of the Petrusville community is to get work on government projects that is linked to the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP).
“The projects are not enough. Every time there is a project that gives work to the community, they only employ up to 30 people at a time, that is not enough, although it help some people,” Mara said.
Mara is a committed small scale fisher, who goes out to fish every day at the Van der Kloof Dam and at Rolfontein Nature Reserve.
She does line-fishing as well as harvesting fish from the kraals at Van der Kloof Dam.
“My method of fishing is to put four hooks on a line with something heavy on it, when I see a school of fish, I will just throw the line into the school of fish and pull the line, grabbing fish on the line, and mostly you will just catch one fish at a time.”
Mara says that although this practice of fishing is frowned upon, because they hurt the fish, it is the easiest and quickest way to catch a lot of fish at a time.
The preferred method of fishing would be to put one hook on a line with a sinker and bait, but, then you will have to wait for the fish to be lured to your bait, even if you throw it in a school of fish.
The other method of fishing for Mara is to harvest fish from the kraal, this depends to a large extent on the ebb and flow of the water at the dam, and when the turbines of the dams are opened, which cause the fish to be washed into the fish kraals.
This can mean that Mara will have to be at the dam at different hours of the day, sometimes late at night and early in the morning.
Catching and harvesting fish at the Van der Kloof Dam is also difficult for Mara, she has no transport, and has to travel a long distance to the dam, mostly hiking or hitching a lift from strangers.
“At most, I can now only take about 20 fish from the dam at a time, because we do not have transport from Van der Kloof to Petrusville, the bags are heavy to carry, and if we take too much fish, we will not be able to sell everything, and the fish will just rot.”
The fish most prevalent in Mara’s fishing places are barber, largemouth yellow fish and the small mouth yellow fish, and these fish can grow very big, which makes it difficult for Mara to transport big amounts of fish back to Petrusville.
Mara, who is now 51 years old, only completed her schooling up to Standard Nine (Grade 11), and this she had to do by attending night school, because at the time that she was growing up, there was no high school in Petrusville.
“I completed my schooling up to Standard Six (Grade 8) in Petrusville, then I was moved to De Aar where I started Standard Seven (Grade 9), but my parents were forced to take me out of the school, because they could not afford to pay my fees at the boarding school in De Aar.”
Mara then had to go out and start earning a living, fishing in the rivers in and around Van der Kloof and Petrusville.
“In those days we did not yet harvest fish from the kraals at Van der Kloof Dam, only my father and other the other men working at Van der Kloof Dam harvested fish from the kraals.”
The reason for this, Mara said was because they were not allowed on the premises of the Dam, and only the workers who worked for Water Works went to take the fish out during their lunch breaks.
At one stage, Mara also worked in Cape Town, she lived in Lavender Hill and Ocean View, and worked as a domestic worker, and also worked at the Spur in Fish Hoek.
This is also where her only child, Dylan was born, and when he was still a baby, Mara decided to move back to Petrusville, and once again took up her life as a fisher.
She raised Dylan all by herself, put him through school, and through her fishing activities, she has managed to keep him at the University of the Free State for the last four years, where he is studying languages.
“Every day I say ‘Thank You Lord’ for the fish that he gives us. It helps me to keep my son at university, I can provide my son with the extras that he needs at university, I can buy him airtime, if the catch is good, and I can send him money.”
“Catching fish is beneficial to me and the community. The fish that we catch, I eat of it, I live from it, I sell it and can buy groceries, I buy clothes and other daily essentials from it.”
“Fishing is a very important aspect of my life, without it I cannot exist.”
At the moment, Mara says that things are not so good, since the fish have all gone; she ascribes this to the winter months, since it happens every year.
“In winter the fish is scarce, if we catch two to five fish per day, it will be good, unlike in summer, we have to put bait in the fishing kraals, because there are not enough fish to be dragged into the kraals, so we have to put the bait to lure them into the kraals.”
Mara is happy about the Experimental Fishery Management Project (EFMP) that will be implemented at the Van der Kloof Dam, and is positive that it can bring good results.
Mara hopes the project can assist with transport. She also wishes for a factory to be built to which the fishers can sell their fish, which will allow her to catch more fish, because she will have a buyer for it, and that she would not have to go around selling fish after coming back from her fishing trips.
“A market must also be created for our fish, and I hope that the project will create work for people in the community, as there are a lot of people who are unemployed,” she said.