Vanderkloof fishers have once again been harassed and intimidated by the local Vanderkloof Police officers over the festive season, after the Task Team set up by the Northern Cape Provincial Government to look into food security for the communities, decided that the fishers taking fish out of the fishing kraals, should not be prosecuted by the police during the December holidays.

Kraal fishing is a traditional fishing method that has been practised for centuries by the Khoisan communities on the rivers of South Africa, and evidence of it is widespread on the river systems in our country.

Fishers along the Orange River, including at Van der Kloof Dam and the Gariep Dam, and going right up to Prieska, are today still practising kraal fishing.

Because kraal fishing is a traditional form of fishing, practised by the original people of the land, there is a campaign for it to be recognised by the government as such, and it would also be covered by some conventions of the United Nations.

With kraal fishing, fishers build a kraal in the river, and leave some bait in the kraal, usually corn, and when the stream gets strong, fish either swim into the kraal, or get forced into it by the current.

In the case of Van der Kloof Dam, the fishers depend on the opening and closing of the sluices of the dam. Once the sluices are opened, lots of water gets flooded into the river, and the kraals get swelled with fish.

The kraals are constructed in such a way that it allows the fish to get in, but not able to get out. Once the water subsides, the fishes move into the kraal and empties it.

Should they not empty the kraal the fish will just die in the kraal and create an environmental problem.

In the last task team meeting, an extensive discussion took place on previous prosecutions, fines issued to fishers and fences that have been set up around the Van der Kloof Dam, and it was agreed that the fishers would be left alone for now.

Because of the intimidation that happened over the festive season, fishers are adamant that they will take further steps and make a case against the Van der Kloof police.

Johannes Coetzee, (Basie), the chairperson of the Luckhoff Vissers gemeenskap, says that three members of the Luckhoff community were harassed and intimidated by the Van der Kloof police in December.

“On this day, our fishers and two white men took fish out of the kraal, the police came and took the two white guys aside and talked to them. However, they talked sternly to the fishers from Luckhoff, and warned them, that should they ever be found at the dam, they will be heavily dealt with,” says Coetzee.

Raphael Benadie, chairperson of the Keurkieskloof Fishing Community, says that as a community, they are not going to leave it at that.

Benadie has already spoken to higher authorities within the Northern Cape Police Service, who have advised them what steps to follow to make a case against the Van der Kloof police.

“The three communities of Petrusville, Keurkieskloof and Luckhoff will come together to work out a way forward, on how we can stop the harassment and intimidation,” says Benadie.

Steenkamp says the worst part is that whenever their members are confronted by the police, they don’t get arrested anymore.

The police only disown them of the fish they have caught or taken out of the kraal, so there is actually no record of them having been intimidated by the police, no paperwork at all.

“The sad part is that in one instance they just dumped the fish on the rocks on the side of the river, allowing it to rot in the sun,” says Benadie.

On another occasion, Benadie says they found loads of fish that had been dumped in the mountain by the police.

In both instances, besides robbing the fishers of a livelihood, Benadie believes that the Van der Kloof police are also causing a huge environmental problem.

“The Van der Kloof police are also working out of their jurisdiction when they arrest, harass and intimidate the fishers, because the kraal are based on the Free State side of the dam, and the Van der Kloof police are members of the Northern Cape police,” says Benadie.

“The Van der Kloof police at one time followed the Luckhoff fishers deep into the Free State and stopped them, to tell them not to come and fish at the dam anymore.”

Benadie says that the police do not want the fishers at the dam, and at one time told them that their method of fishing is not recognised.

Although the area at Van der Kloof dam where the fishers catch their fish falls under the Luckhoff Police Station, Benadie says the Luckhoff police do not bother the fishers, because they believe that it is a source of income and food for the fishers.

Another problem the fishers have also with lightning at night, since the kraals are situated in a security zone, there are huge spot lights.

In the past, the fishers used this light to navigate their way to the dams, but, Benadie says that recently the dam management have decided to switch off the lights at night.

“We had two incidents in the dark recently, one was because the police intimidated the fishers, and the fishers scattered, and because there are a lot of rocks, the fishers could not see the rocks in the dark and it almost caused serious injury to an older lady amongst the group.”

On another occasion, Benadie says the fishers reported that because they could not see, they almost stepped onto a Cape Cobra snake in the dark.

The Hook contacted the station commander of the Van der Kloof police station, Captain Marius van Tonder, who indicated that they are aware that accusations are being made against them and that it would be investigated.

He however said that they cannot comment on the allegations, and that we should talk to police communications in Kimberley.

We spoke to Major D Mooi at SAPS Communications in Kimberley, who said that they will only comment on the intimidation once a case has been opened, which has not been done yet.

Benadie indicated that they have been advised that the case will only be opened after February 3.

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