On 1 February 2022 Philasande Qhangaqha and his 3 friends went fishing in the Mbashe River to catch fish and mussels when they were accosted by 9 Dwesa Nature Reserve rangers. These rangers, that had no identifying name tags, assaulted this group of young fishers as well as tied them up with reeds and suffocated them with their clothes.

The lack of clear and co-ordinated communication between the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE), Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism (ECPTA) and local authorities regarding the access of small-scale fishers to traditional fishing grounds, has left fishing communities vulnerable towards violence from authorities. The intimidation of fishers by law enforcement is particularly jarring as rural communities usually have little to no recourse for the actions meted against them.

“The scourge of harassment and criminalisation has had dire consequences in other coastal communities. In KwaZulu-Natal the weaponised policing of fishing areas, has led to the killing and disappearance of small-scale fishers in Nibela,” said Boyisile Mafilika, Project Officer at Masifundise.

“Acts of violence towards those securing their livelihoods must be condemned in the highest manner. Small-scale fishers all along the coast live in fear due to the unending violence perpetuated against them by local law enforcement agencies,” continued Mafilika.

Masifundise implores the Department to put measures in place to facilitate the protection of small-scale fishers and their customary rights. We further urge government to engage with local conservation authorities on their conduct with small-scale fishers as well as investigate the ongoing harassment in order for the perpetrators to be brought to book.