Small-scale fishers from the Dwesa-Cwebe communities in the Eastern Cape have faced ongoing violations to their right to conduct livelihood activities. Thobile Mpunzi, together with Mandilakhe Ndabeni and Vuyisani Ndlumdini are local fishers from Mpume village who were shot at by rangers on 11 December 2022, while harvesting mussels in the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve.

All three fishers were charged with trespassing the Nature Reserve. Due to the shooting incident, Mr Mpunzi sustained serious injuries and was hospitalised for over a year and underwent physiotherapy. Mr Ndabeni was detained and Mr Ndlumbini was able to flee when they were shot at but later surrendered to the police.

On 17 January 2024, a year after the fishers were shot, Mr Mpunzi was discharged from the hospital. Due to the grievous injuries, Mr Mpunzi is now permanently bound to a wheelchair.

The three fishers had to appear before the Willowvale Magistrate Court in April last year however, the case was postponed to allow for Mr Mpunzi to recover from his injuries. Now that he is discharged from hospital, the magistrate court will be notified in order for the court proceedings to resume.

Despite facing charges for trespassing in the reserve, the Mpume small-scale fishers took action, filing a harassment charge against rangers after the shooting incident. Small-scale fishers from the Dwesa-Cwebe communities have continuously been subjected to victimisation and criminilisation from local conservation authorities for conducting livelihood activities. Small-scale fishers, along with their families and the broader community depend on fish for food and income.

The safety and right to food of fishers is increasingly becoming compromised for fishers from the area. In the past year, Masifundise and the Mpume community have had multiple engagements with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), urging them to take action against the rangers ensuring that there are no further violations of human rights against the Dwesa-Cwebe fishing communities.

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