Despite South Africa becoming a democratic state more than two decades ago, the reality is that the majority of people living in coastal and inland fishing communities still live in deep poverty.

The aspirational fundamental rights, enshrined in the South African Constitution in its Bill of Rights, remain out of reach for the vast majority of fishers who still do not benefit from the progressive small-scale fisheries policy that was put in place by our government in 2012.

Instead, we are faced with a government that follows the same neo-liberal policies  that dominates the entire world. In South Africa as elsewhere, we are witnesses to rising inequalities and more power in the hands of the wealthy elites and transnational corporations. This is becoming more and more evident with the implementation of the Blue Growth agenda – manifested through Operation Phakisa in South Africa – which carves up our ocean territory and allocates  increasing space for marine protection, extractive industries like oil and gas, and tourism, while restricting small-scale fishers from accessing their traditional fishing grounds.

At the same time, new large-scale harbours geared for export of coal, shipping, aquaculture and widescale bioengineering are emerging.

The picture that emerges is not one of social development and environmental protection – as promised under the Blue Growth agenda. Instead, it is one characterised by pollution with corporations at the centre working hand in hand with our government to extract more fossil fuels and use more energy in the midst of the global climate crisis and rising poverty in South Africa.

Small-scale fishing communities, whose very existence depends on access to and control over coastal and ocean territory and natural resources, are directly and negatively affected by this neo-liberal development agenda. But they are not the only people who are affected. The deepening climate crisis, together with the economic and social crisis, affects the broader population in our country, especially the most impoverished groups. 

It is within this context that our new programme moves from ‘fishing rights and human rights’ towards ‘human rights and food sovereignty’. For Masifundise the principles and objectives of food sovereignty look beyond fishing and constitute a direct response to the multiple aspects and systemic causes of the crisis. Social, environmental and economic justice are its key principles.

The loss of access on the part of the traditional fishers to the use and ownership of South Africa’s natural resources or, means of production, is a central narrative and theme running through its history, laying the foundation for a long legacy of small-scale fisher dispossession and, a not as yet realised transformation of the sector.  Anchored in the principles of food sovereignty, our new programme aims to deepen the political consciousness of the people we work with;  facilitate self-organisation in fishing communities; strengthen alliances with other movements; and promote as well as demonstrate real solutions.

Masifundise has consistently believed and argued that communities need to organise themselves in order to effect changes in their lives. This is based on the premise that self-organisation is the best vehicle to bring about lasting legislative, environmental and systemic change to sustain livelihoods, socio economic growth and human and environmental justice. Masifundise’s overarching Food Sovereignty in Small-scale Fishing Programme places the empowerment and agency of small-scale fishers, nationally and globally, at the heart and centre of its transformational agenda.

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