The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Fisheries are expected to submit responding affidavits in the Mthatha High Court in a landmark case over customary fishing rights and access to marine resources.
Small-scale fisher communities from Dwesa-Cwebe, represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), are asking the court to recognise their customary rights to access the marine resource inside the Dwesa-Cwebe MPA and thus allow them partial access to the Marine Protected Area.
The fisher communities have asked the court to set aside the decision taken in terms of the MLRA to make Dwesa-Cwebe a no-take MPA from 2000.
The Ministers are to reply to all affidavits, filed since 17 December 2013 until 16 January 2015 by fishers, concern parties and LRC on behalf of Dwesa-Cwebe communities.
Since 2013, LRC on behalf of the fishing communities have filled several affidavits to the court requesting a review of the decisions taken by the ministers. To date the departments have failed to respond to the communities’ repeated request for access to marine resources in terms of the Settlement Agreement which they signed in 2000.
The restrictions, together with forced removals during and before apartheid, have systematically eroded the rights of the small-scale fishers to earn a decent living and have denied them their customary rights.
Masifundise and Coastal Links South Africa support the concept of Marine Protected Areas in so far as they protect marine resources but insist on environmental sustainability and livelihood protection being given equal status.
“As Masifundise, we have always maintained that MPA’s should help and not harm communities. Any programme that has an aim to protect nature must and should put people first – to see fishing communities displaced and deliberately excluded from their traditional fishing ground is an injustice,” says Nico Waldeck, Masifundise’s Field Worker in the Western Cape.
From fishers from Langebaan in the Western Cape to St Lucia in KZN face the dampening effect of natural resources being closed off in the name of “conserving” nature. Fishers who have used marine and other natural resources for decades have seen their customary rights taken away from.
“Fishers can no longer go to fishing grounds freely without being harassed by officials” said Mr. Ponono, EC Masifundises Field Worker, “ Nor do they benefit from “tourist” activities that happen within these MPA’s, they are just excluded,” he continued.