The Norton Dowries National Strategic Forum, formerly known as the National Strategic Forum (NSF), took place in Riebeek-Kasteel, Western Cape from 15-18 May 2023. This annual event brought together representatives from small-scale fisher (SSF) communities across South Africa to discuss the challenges faced by the sector and develop strategies for the way forward in the SSF struggle.

The forum opened with a tribute to Norton Dowries, a prominent and beloved leader in advancing small-scale fishers’ struggles, resulting in the event’s renaming. Norton passed away the day before he was scheduled to travel from Langebaan to participate in the NSF. Participants expressed gratitude for Dowries’ contributions and acknowledged the changes he brought to the sector.

Representatives from coastal and inland fishing communities in KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, and the Northern Cape, along with partner organizations, convened at the NSF. This four-day event provided a platform for members of SSF communities to explore, analyse and develop a shared understanding of the current political, socio-economic and key emerging issues that affect them. It also included a Political Education Training session with Carsten Pedersen from the Transnational Institute to understand the political context in which they find themselves and to decide on political strategies to be developed in the small-scale fishers’ struggle.

During the week, a Women Assembly took place in which women from both coastal and inland fishing communities gathered to discuss the challenges faced by women in the sector and to develop strategies to propel the women’s movement forward. Participants discussed a range of issues, including the dependency on men for fishing, the lack of recognition for women in the sector, the need for women’s visibility and representation in public participation processes, and the prevalence of harassment and gender-based violence.

Parallel to the women’s assembly, a men’s assembly was held to encourage male participants to better support women’s struggles within the SSF sector and the broader community.

Furthermore, a meeting [insert link] with the Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) allowed representatives to voice human rights challenges in the sector.

Coastal Links provincial meetings within the NSF facilitated identification of cases of struggles and threats faced by small-scale fishers in South Africa that should constitute the themes to be brought forward in the Fisher People’s Tribunal, scheduled for 2024.

The tribunal aims to document the violations experienced by fisher people in realising their human rights and will be the next step in advancing the small-scale fisher struggle in South Africa.

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