A delegation from Masifundise Development Trust visited the Northern Cape this week to assess progress with a fishery project designed to benefit small-scale fishers in and around the Vanderkloof Dam.
The main focus of Masifundise and Coastal Links South Africa (CLSA) is to ensure that fishing communities across the country are able to secure sustainable livelihoods from oceans and dams.
CLSA has 4 000 members across the country, situated in Coastal towns and villages – from Port Nolloth in the Northern Cape to Kosi Bay in the northern parts of Natal.
Small-Scale fishers find it hard to eke out a living due to a number of factors that include corporate monopolies, overfishing, pollution of the oceans and government action. Many poor communities are denied access to fishing opportunities by the actions of elite groups who place narrow commercial interests above the right of fishers to earn a living.
“At Vanderkloof, we are interested in a government proposal that explores the potential of fishing in the dam for livelihoods and poverty alleviation” said Masifundise’s Michelle Joshua.
The government’s announcement of an experimental project had stirred some controversy with a powerful lobby of recreational fishers claiming that the largemouth and clanwilliam yellow fish was under threat.
The proponents of the project, the government and other stakeholders, say that from their observations, there is fish in abundance.
However, there has been no recent scientific research done and so claims of abundance or scarcity are largely anecdotal.
In a separate matter, small-scale fishers are being blocked from kraal fishing near the dam wall, because it is located in a security zone. Fishers have been arrested inside and outside the zone for either trespassing or fishing illegally.
The kraal fishing, which entails building a safe area surrounded by rocks, is an ancient Khoisan method. Mealies are placed in the space and when the water rises, the fish head there to feed. When the sluice gates close, the water rapidly drops and the fish are trapped in the kraal.
Patronella Bezuidenhoudt’s income from fishing in the Northern Cape’s Vanderkloof Dam over a period of almost 30 years, have helped to support her only son Dillion during his university studies.
She had a huge struggle to get a bursary for Dillon when he completed his schooling, but was eventually successful.
Patronella was able to secure a loan for her son Dillon’s initial tertiary studies, and eventually he got a bursary and now he is in his third year.
“With the money I made from the catches I sold, I have been able to assist him with transport, clothing and book costs,” she said.
Another fisher, Lorenzo Danster remarks that the kraal fisheries must be legalised,'”If we do not remove the fish from the kraal, they rot. This is senseless when we have hundreds of hungry people around”.
In a region with widespread poverty and chronic job shortages, fishing is a critical source of income that can mean the difference between survival and destitution.
MDT is hoping to help communities set up committees in places such as Kleurtjieskloof, Luckhoff and Phillipstown, among other places.
MDT will also engage all stakeholders including the government, the recreational fishers and Rhodes University, which is managing the experimental project.
In April this year, Masifundise took its first small steps into the world of fresh water fisheries when a two-person delegation embarked on a visit to Vanderkloof Dam outside Orania.
MDT and CLSA will step up its work in the area in the months ahead, in order to secure an outcome that benefits poor fishing communities.
South Africa has thousands of dams and rivers.
“In South Africa we depend mostly on rivers, dams and underground water for our water supply. The country does not get a lot of rain, less than 500mm a year. In fact, South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world. To make sure that we have enough water to drink, to grow food and for industries, the government builds dams to store water. These dams make sure that communities do not run out of water in times of drought. About half of South Africa’s annual rainfall is stored in dams. Dams can also prevent flooding when there is an overabundance of water. We have more than 500 government dams in South Africa, with a total capacity of 37 000 million cubic metres (about 15-million Olympic-sized swimming pools).”