Fishers in several communities around the Vanderkloof Dam in the Northern Cape are getting organised so that they can stake their claim for food security.
Members of Masifundise – Michelle Joshua, Nico Waldeck and Mansoor Jaffer – attended a meeting in Petrusville last week where community members indicated their intention to establish a committee that would represent their interests.
In a region with widespread poverty and chronic job shortages, fishing is a critical source of income that can mean the difference between survival and destitution.
Committees will also shortly be set up in places such as Kleurtjieskloof, Luckhoff and Phillipstown, among other places.
Clarence Oliphant, 28, from Kleurtjieskloof, is married with one child and another on its way. He battles to find permanent work and has always fished to supplement his income. “When we fish, we can put food on the table at night and sell some of the catch for some additional income,” he told The Hook.
Mara Bezuidenhout, from Petrusville, proudly shows me a picture of her son Dillon, who is studying at a technikon in Bloemfontein. She has worked as a domestic worker for periods in the past, but has regularly fished during hard times.
“The income I have made through fishing helps to support Dillon through his studies, “ said Mara proudly, as she points to the picture of her only son.
In April, Masifundise took its first small steps into the world of fresh water fisheries when a two person delegation embarked on a visit to Vanderkloof Dam outside Orania in April.
South Africa has thousands of dams and rivers.
“In South Africa we depend mostly on rivers, dams and underground water for our water supply. The country does not get a lot of rain, less than 500mm a year. In fact, South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world. To make sure that we have enough water to drink, to grow food and for industries, the government builds dams to store water. These dams make sure that communities do not run out of water in times of drought. About half of South Africa’s annual rainfall is stored in dams. Dams can also prevent flooding when there is an overabundance of water. We have more than 500 government dams in South Africa, with a total capacity of 37 000 million cubic metres (about 15-million Olympic-sized swimming pools).”
During the April visit, the Masifundise delegation met with a range of stakeholders discussing a government proposal that explores the potential of fishing in the dam for livelihoods and poverty alleviation.
The government’s announcement of an experimentation project has stirred some controversy with a powerful lobby of recreational fishers claiming that the fish resource was under threat.
The proponents of the project, the government and other stakeholders, say that from their observations, there is fish in abundance.
However, there has been no recent scientific research done and so claims of abundance or scarcity are largely anectodal.
In a separate matter, small-scale fishers are being blocked from kraal fishing near the dam wall, because it is located in a security zone. Fishers have been arrested inside and outside the zone for either trespassing or fishing illegally.
The kraal fishing, which entails building a safe area surrounded by rocks, is an ancient Khoisan method. Mealies are placed in the space and when the water rises, the fish head there to feed. When the sluice gates close, the water rapidly drops and the fish are trapped in the kraal.
Masifundise supports the rights of small-scale fishers to sustainable livelihoods.