Solene Smith of Coastal Links recalls
A decade ago, several small-scale fishing communities embarked on collective action that changed the course of fisheries in South Africa.
The exclusion of the sector from rights allocations in 2004, led to court and mass action by the fishers, who were led by Masifundise and Coastal Links.
The case was won and this led to the formulation of the small-scale fisheries policy. In the next few weeks, we run a series that reflects on these events and get the perspectives of some of the main players.
Our first interview is with Solene Smith, chairperson of the Langebaan branch of Coastal Links South Africa. One of the founding member of Coastal Links, she has been actively involved in the struggle of small-scale fishers since 2002. In this question and answer feature, she recalls the events leading up to and following the class action case.
The Hook: When the government decided to give long term rights to commercial fishers and excluded small-scale fishers, what came to your mind, how did you feel?
Solene Smith: We felt like we had to wait for 10 to 15 years for us to get our rights. We were angry and at first did not know what to do, but something had to be done. 10 to 15 years was a very long time to wait and have no income to put food on the table.
The Hook: You said you could not wait, what actions did you take?
Solene Smith: Our anger and frustration led us to come together as small-scale fishers. I remember coming together as a community. We self-organised and wanted to speak directly to politicians. I remember the day we marched to town, I wanted to be in-front and I took the microphone and screamed: “Give us our rights”. We had to be heard, and the world needed to know that our rights and livelihoods as small-scale fishers are important.
The Hook: What are your most memorable moments related to this event?
Solene Smith: I remember how united and passionate the fishers were when we marched to parliament. The politicians saw how strong our forces, our voices, our strength and our determination were. When we marched to parliament, we filled the streets and that point I knew that the government could not ignore us; and we were going to make sure that they ignore us.
The Hook: It is now a decade later. What is your message to the fishers?
Solene Smith: Fishers have to make sure that they take and use every opportunity they get to raise their voices. We need to make sure that we are informed and know what is happening. Tell the government that we exist, if they refuse to listen let us give them a hard time. We have to make sure that those put in place to serve the people do just that, we have to make sure that no decisions about small-scale fishers are made without small-scale fishers.
The Hook: Any comments on Policy implementation?
Solene Smith: It has been a long wait, 10 years. We hoped not to wait so long, but actually endured the interim relief system. I am not certain, in fact I know that we can’t wait any longer. If this process is delayed, we as fishers will rise again and make sure that our government put the people’s needs in front. We will not accept any excuses or delays. It is now time that fishers go to sea freely and we taste the fruit of what we fought for a decade ago.