The Mthatha High Court last month postponed a case for the sentencing of three Dwesa Cwebe fishermen for the murder of a ranger.
The three Mendwane residents were earlier convicted of killing the ranger who himself killed a fisherman in the Dwesa-Cwebe Marine Protected Area in February 2012.
The family of this murdered fisherman have not received anything from the authorities. Nor has there been an official enquiry into his death.
The context for these tragedies is the question of access to the marine protected area, which is highly contested. Fishers, with the support of the Legal Resources Centre and Masifundise Development Trust, are currently engaged in court action to secure a review of the decision to make this a no take MPA and to secure their customary rights to fish in parts of the MPA.
The problems go back to 2000 when the DEAT declared Dwesa-Cwebe a no take Marine Protected Area (MPA) and ordered that fishing would no longer be allowed there.
The fishers have objected stating that the country’s Constitution did not allow the government to make decisions that take away peoples’ rights without first discussing it with those people.
They said the Minister did not speak to any of the fishers of Dwesa-Cwebe before making this announcement that made them like thieves on their own land when implementation of this decision commenced in 2005.
This matter has dragged for a number of years before the fishers embarked on a legal intervention, insisting that their customary rights allow them to fish for a living.
An information leaflet that was put out last year, stated;
“The court case has pushed the Minister into action. On Friday, 31 October 2014, the Department of Environmental Affairs came to Dutywa to tell some of the people of Dwesa-Cwebe that they plan to open 11km of the Reserve’s coastline. They then published draft regulations for public comment on 4 November 2014.
“However, while the Minister’s intention is good news, the regulations have many problems. They do not recognise the customary rights of the Dwesa-Cwebe fishing communities; it says nothing about co-management of the Reserve and the MPA; and it places a lot of restrictions on the fishers which will be difficult to implement. Also, the local fishers are not treated better than any recreational fishers. “It is therefore still very important that the court case continues.”
- The fishers are going to court to ask that it make an order:
- that the communities of Dwesa-Cwebe have customary rights to the fishing and forestry resources that must be recognised and protected.
- That all the other fishers who have been arrested were not acting against the law when they were fishing in the MPA and must therefore be found not guilty;
- that the people of Dwesa-Cwebe must be respected and treated as the owners of the MPA and the Reserve. That means that no-one can make decisions about the Reserve without the agreement of the local communities;
- that no Minister can decide that the communities are suddenly not allowed to fish in their own waters;
- that the Minister must make sure that the communities become the co-managers of the resources in the Reserve and the MPA.
I am a resident of Ntlangano location which falls under Dwesa-Cwebe land trust and one of 7 CPAs there. We still struggle to access our own reserve despite that we won land claim as per settlement agreement of 2001 which made those 7 villages owners of the Dwesa-Cwebe area. There used to be a trust which was stopped from operating through threat of court action around 2009. Since then they could not operate and could not access trust a count held at then Meeg Bank. There were also few millions kept at Amathole District Municipality on behalf of the Trust as it was, allegedly, said the trust then did not have capacity to keep such a large sum of money.