To: All media

Date: 16 January 2023

Subject: Shooting at Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve threatens the safety and right to food of small-scale fishers

On 11 December 2022, Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve rangers opened fire on 3 fishers from the village of Mpume who were harvesting mussels in the reserve. This act led to the serious injury of Thobile Mpunzi, detainment of Mandilakhe Ndabeni while the third small-scale fisher to managed to flee. 

Mr Mpunzi was transferred to Frere hospital in East London while Mr Ndabeni, who is only 29 years old, was arrested for trespassing and detained overnight at the Willowvale police station. He will appear before the Willowvale Magistrate court on the 26th of January 2023.

This incident comes shortly after of Philasande Qhangaqha from Mendwane and his 3 friends were accosted and assaulted by rangers. Despite the investigation conducted by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) no meaningful actions have been taken to address this issue. The violence meted against fishing communities must be condemned in the highest order and significant actions need to be taken as a matter of urgency.

While the judicial process will take its course for these specific arrests, this episode adds to the numbers of reports from the Dwesa-Cwebe fishing communities of harassment, violence and victimisation of community members at the hands of ECPTA park rangers. These are not isolated incidences, but part of broader, systematically militant approach by the management of the Nature Reserve, that uses violence as the first response.

The safety and right to food of fishers is increasingly becoming compromised. Masifundise and the Mpume community therefore requests DFFE and the ECPTA to:

  1. Take decisive disciplinary actions towards the rangers that were involved in this and previously reported harassments.
  2. Carry out an official investigation on the inherent use of violence by rangers in the Nature Reserve which compromises the human dignity enshrined in South Africa’s constitution and Bill of Rights.
  3. Implement the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment and include small-scale fishers, who have historically used the resources in the reserve, in the co-management of the Nature Reserve.
  4. Engage with the Community Property Association (CPA), law enforcement and other conservation authorities to improve relations with small-scale fishing communities. As part of this, training must be provided to Reserve personnel to ensure that they are capacitated to carry out their tasks without violating the human rights and dignity of local communities.
  5. Ensuring that there are no further violations of human rights of the Dwesa-Cwebe fishing communities. We request urgent actions from the Department and relevant provincial departments and entities to put measures in place to ensure the protection of small-scale fishers and their customary rights.

 

Generations of small-scale fishers have relied on ocean resources for food and income, but current harassment have undermined their ability to safely support their livelihoods and exercise their customary rights. We implore DFFE to act swiftly in ensuring safety of small-scale fishing communities.

For media enquiries contact:

Sibongiseni Gwebani

sibongiseni@masifundise.org.za

082 382 9259