This was the message from Coastal Links leaders at the Eastern Cape Provincial Executive committee meeting held in Port St John’s 3-5 October 2017. From village to village the leaders reported their concerns about Operation Phakisa, the ocean economy, mining and the way that Phakisa and the Marine Spatial Planning Bill fails to include them. “Phakisa, Phakisa, Phakisa! We are tired of hearing about Phakisa without government consulting us! Enough is enough! Our demand is recognition of our customary rights, to our lands and our livelihoods!” The PEC meeting resolved that the Coastal Links Masifundise Roundtable event to be held in East London on World Fisheries Day, the 21st of November. This event, in solidarity with fishing communities’ worldwide, will bring together fishers from the entire Eastern Cape coastline. The focus of the Roundtable will be on Operation Phakisa and the protection of coastal communities’ traditional waters, their coasts, land and forests. Key government officials from the Department of Environment, from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Eastern Cape Department of Environment and planning, the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism and local government have been invited. Coastal Links has also invited their partner organisations to join them in raising public awareness on World Fisheries Day.
In addition to planning the Roundtable, the leaders used the opportunity to learn more about the struggles of the fishing communities living in the Port St John’s area. Local leader Ntsindiso Nonqcavu took the group on a guided tour of the area. He outlined the history of his community, the Sicambeni community living adjacent to Silaka Reserve, their forced removal at the hands of the nature conservation authorities in the 1940s and their on-going struggle to have their land claim settlement agreement respected by the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism (ECPTA) and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. The community have forced the closure of the reserve until such time as ECPTA responds to their demand for access to natural resources and equitable benefit sharing. The Coastal Links leaders visited the local community radio station and used the opportunity to inform the radio station about their planned action on World Fisheries Day. They also visited a sacred site, the Isinuka Springs, where they bathed in the sulphur springs and collected water and ‘dagga’, a healing clay from the spring.
Following this visit, the 2 coastal communities of Sicameni and Dwesa-Cwebe have delivered ultimatums to the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Authority (ECPTA), and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR), calling for the Departments to respect their right to co-manage the nature reserves and marine protected areas and enable then to benefit equitably from these protected areas. The community of Sicambeni, living adjacent to the Silaka Nature Reserve outside Port St John’s and the Dwesa-Cwebe communities living adjacent to the Dwesa-Cwebe Reserve and Marine Protected Area are tired of not being included in the co-management of the reserves. They are also frustrated by the Department’s failure to ensure the election of a legitimate Communal Property Association (CPA) to represent the communities, who are the owners of the land on which the reserve is located. The Dwesa-Cwebe Working Group has given the Department 14 days to meet their request to engage with the community on the election of a legitimate CPA. Failing this, the community has informed the ECPTA that they will force the conservation management authority to remove their rangers and to leave the reserve. On the 5 of October the Dwesa-Cwebe working group sent the following letter addressed to the Chief Land Claims Commissioner, the ECPTA and DRDLR:
Dear Chief Land Claims Commissioner, Ms Gobode, DRDLR officials and ECPTA officials,
The Dwesa-Cwebe Working Group, on behalf of the Dwesa-Cwebe community, request your urgent response to our correspondence in which we requested that you engage with us to organise the CPA elections. We ask that you respond to us as a matter of extreme urgency. You will recall all of our correspondence to your organisations in the past and the most recent deadline of 14 days. Failing any response we shall consider the situation a breach of the settlement agreement between our community and yourselves and will be forced to take action to prevent our land and the reserve being managed without us.
We ask you to honour your commitments to us in good faith.
The Dwesa-Cwebe working group
Coastal Links members spent considerable time discussing the new draft Communal Land Rights Bill, raising their concerns about this Bill and its failure to accommodate their distinctive customary systems of tenure. They agreed to submit comments to the DRDLR demanding that there be local hearings in rural areas on this Bill and further consultation before the Bill is finalised. The leaders are very concerned about the number of draft bills and projects like Phakisa and the SANRAL Wild Coast N2 that will impact their communities. They resolved to continue to mobilize their communities in order to protect their coastal lands and water and ensure that their communities are aware of this draft legislation.