Protesting Western Cape fishermen demand urgent meeting with minister

Cape Town - A group of Hout Bay fishermen are demanding an urgent meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) saying they've been given the runaround by the department.

"It's struggling, the fishing community," said Hout Bay Fishers Community Trust (HBFCT) spokesperson Ikram Halim on Tuesday as the fishing town became the scene of fiery protests.

Police spokesperson Captain FC Van Wyk said a 14-year-old child had allegedly been shot with a rubber bullet, and a law enforcement officer was injured when a flare was released in his direction during a day of protests.

Tables from the Mariner's Wharf seafood restaurant were also dragged into Harbour Road and set alight on the tar to block access, while police fired rubber bullets in an attempt to disperse protesters.

Councillor Roberto Quintas said the violence was unacceptable and urged the fishermen to contact national government, the only authority on the fishing issue.

Earlier on Monday before the protest, a group of fishing organisations, including HBFCT wrote to Senzeni Zokwana, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to tell him they are at the end of their tether.

They feel the Fishing Rights Allocation Process is placing them in danger of sinking into poverty over the way it is managed.

Collapsing communities

An extract read, "For more than a decade your department and many of its senior officials have treated fishing communities with contempt and disrespect and have done so with impunity.

"They show very little or no regard for the situation communities find themselves in and continue to pander to the whims of big companies to the detriment of fishing communities."

The fishermen complained that officials in Zokwana's department do not answer their telephones or their emails, officials do not arrive for appointments, and documentation critical to the livelihoods of the fishermen get` lost in the department.

"We no longer believe or trust your department and officials who continually mislead communities into believing that there is relief in sight."

They want an immediate meeting with the minister to discuss their demands.

Pedro Garcia, chairperson of the South African United Fishing Front said the department had been dragging its feet with the process of verifying and identifying small scale fishermen, and communities feel that the identification process could be fraudulent.

"There is a very clear indication that the department has been pandering to the big companies. What they are doing is further marginalising small scale fishermen."

According to Garcia the dwindling work for small scale fishermen competing with big companies is causing communities to collapse and the fear is that people might turn to gangsterism and drugs in the absence of any hope of earning a living.

Additionally, protesters for housing and electricity also took to the streets of the fishing town to air their own grievances. The town is still recovering from a devastating fire in Imizamo Yethu, which has necessitated a complete rebuild, which is being managed by the City of Cape Town.

City of Cape Town spokesperson Richard Coleman said only Harbour Road was affected, with traffic flowing as normal elsewhere.

Comment was not immediately available from DAFF.

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