Transformation, government puppets and cronies destroying traditional fishing, something even Apartheid never did.

As an outsider of the fishing industry, I had the opportunity to read the magazine “Fishing Industry news”. 3 Articles by different authors all related to the small scale fisherman and the problems they faced. What intrigued me was that it’s clear that these fisherman of these fishing communities have been abused for not years but decades. I needed to get the story behind the story to see for myself the facts and the reality of the situation these hard working fisherman had to endure. Worldwide its well-known that fishermen have the most dangerous jobs on earth. All of us watched television series like “Deadliest Catch, Hardliners even Wicked Tuna” but I wanted to know our South African fishers facts.

The history books paint a clear history of nearly all the fishing villages or fishing communities and sometimes their struggles for livelihood and fishing methods. History also shows us the way how these fishers and their families were treated by the communities where they resided even fishing communities that were wholly removed and scattered to other places by state laws at the time. Although painful but let’s look deeper and mention the views of the fishers themselves. As promised I will not name the fishers (fisherman), as they fear retribution as this is a clear reality as the reader shall note in this article.

“Jy weet apartheid het ons huise gevat, ma ons het wee ‘n dak oor ons kop gekry. Jy sien dai was bad ma wat matters was ons kon steeds see toe gaan en ons brood verdien”.

“Ja sameste hie, ma ons het dai survive, ma kyk nou die k##, die government vat ons brood af en gie dit ve mense wat nooit ees die see gesien het nie!”

“U know hey, I catch fish for 50 years from Port Nolloth right to Mosselbay, now government say 80% of all fishing rights must belong to blacks, wtf, who is this blacks? Where they come from?”

“U know the blacks we see in my lifetime fishing is 90% Ovambo from Namibia, 5% from Angola and 5% Xhosa or Zulu.”

“Jy wiet ne, ons vang jare vis even voor jy nog geswing het, da wasie iets soos blacks, whites, coloured’s of Indians nie. Ons was almal genoem “see kaffers” even was jy ‘n whitey”

“ Ja ons is mos die gemors van society”

To mention a clear fact is that the issue of relocating fishers from their homes took a back stage view related to the current fears of the present and future these fishers will have to endure. When I related to racism and how this affect their lives, it’s clear that the fishers never had this threat hanging over them as now and the future.

“Jy weet soos ons nou hier sit, wit, bruin en slams so het ons al die jare even apartheid jare saam gesit en gewerk soos braas. Jy weet brother from another mother”.

“Ons hetie geworry oor votes nie, ons worry om elke dag brood opie tafel te sit”. “When the people go vote, we go to sea as we cannot eat a vote”.

“Mandela promised a rainbow nation, maar DAFF (department of forestry and fisheries) maak dai rainbow ‘n pik swart donder storm, waar ons almal gaan vrek”.

“Jy vra my of ek vir whities baas noem, never het ons dai gedoen nie. Ons het almal name of byname en dai is jou naam. Sien by ons is da nie apartheid nie because ons almal moet saamwerk om die vis te vang. As ons nie saamwerk nie dan het niemand vriette nie.”

“Kyk nou soos die “nuwe black kreef kwota houer” wat ons sy kreef gaan vang het. Hy sit en huil en kots heeldag da inie laai en vanmiddag loep hy weg met ‘n tjek van derduisende en ons verdien R200 per man. Jy sien hom eers weer volgende kreef season. Nou dis apartheid, racism en diskriminasie”


The more I interview the local fishers of different communities it’s apparent that most have the same problems, but these problems and issues is a reality that remind me of a ticking time bomb. Although I have to remind me continuously that the issue is the small scale fishers but the reality is that there are so many avenues flowing towards, between and even outwards related to the fishery. I now note the reference of the article and experience “the name game”. Time and again fishers told me DAFF have a slogan “divide and conquer” and this now seems a reality to me. I would have imagined an fisher is a person who go to sea, who fishes or harvest marine resources to sustain that persons livelihood. Why then all the different labels to the fishers. Commercial fisher, Nearshore fisher, traditional fisher, small scale fisher, recreational fisher and subsistence fisher? How can one family members comprise of all the above labelling? If this is meant to be an rainbow nation fisher family then DAFF clearly have no clue of the ways the fishing policies is destroying fishing communities, families and fishing traditions. Fishing in a family is an historical proven tradition, whereas the whole family are engaged in many ways to fishing and related fishing operations. In short, men harvest and women clean and sell.

Please note that both men and women also harvest, clean, add value, sell or market the fish or fish products. Most notably is the saying which to me is fair and just is “jy kanie ‘n visserman maak nie, ‘n visserman word gebore met sout in sy are” meaning fishers are born into the tradition by family and also noted by marriage into an fisher family. Let me define for the reader the differences of the labels as explained by the fishers.

“Commercial Fisher” This is a person who registered a company or other legal entity and received a quota by DAFF.  (the father, sole owner fishing cc, lobster quota holder 8tons, caught by traps any depth).

“Nearshore fisher” A person or legal entity registered who was granted an nearshore lobster quota by DAFF. (the mother, as individual granted 800kg lobster quota caught by ring nets any depths).

“Traditional fisher” a person or legal entity granted a line fishing right for his vessel according the SAMSA (South African Marine Safety Authority regulations)  crew on board limit. Note this person or legal entity mat also be an “nearshore lobster” or “abalone commercial” right holder. (the oldest son, boat 8 crew line fish right and 400kg abalone and 350kg lobster right. For line fishing he may use any person as crew even if the person is not an active fisher, abalone he employs a registered diver for the 3 days to harvest the allocation, catch the lobster with ring nets any depth) “small scale fisher” a person currently (IR interim relief) granted lobster, line fishing, white mussel and red bait allocations under a community permit controlled by DAFF appointed person (caretaker).

The caretaker decides who must harvest the lobster and to whom the catch is sold. The caretaker decides which vessels to register so the fisher can fish line fish. (110kg lobster per person, ring nets any depth, line fish limited to recreational limits except hottentot, yellowtail and snoek which may be sold others not) 99% of the fishers claimed this is disastrous as the last two years they had to revert back to poaching to sustain themselves. (the other son, not allowed to register or use his own boat for harvesting his allocations, must sit at home as he are not allowed a copy of the permit and accept whatever the caretaker give him for his lobster that was caught and sold by someone in the commercial sector.) “subsistence fisher” a person who harvest resources and use this for own consumption, actually a farce as resources harvested are sold even bartered.

“Recreational fisher” a person whose means to sustain themselves by other income outside the fishing industry, who purchase a permit at the post office to catch or harvest limited resources for personal use only. (most fishers think this is laughable as certain species is targeted explicitly for sale by recreational fishers. Then also fishers use this permit since age 12 to sustain income as DAFF only accept the age of an fisher as 18 years.) ( the youngest son 17 years).

As you can note in the above scenario of the differences created by the label game, the reality actually is simple. Everyone have access to lobster but are limited in quantity or fishing method (trap or ring net), but the fishing area is exactly the same. You won’t find a fisher that can confirm otherwise. Intriguing was the issue related the difference of using traps and ring nets. Explained to me by the fishers, is that this was a means of manipulation used by DAFF under pressure from the big fishing companies. In short, the old days everyone used ring nets. Big boats (mother) carried or towed small boats that used ring nets, and the small boats delivered the catch to the big boats. “hen en kuikens”. Big companies then found that using traps had two major advantages. The first was that the quality of the lobster landed increased dramatically, thus better yield, better price and best income. The second was that the labour force needed was cut down to 10%, thus minimum expenses for wages. Some fishers told me that in the nineties they were granted lobster rights and used their boats and traps, but then DAFF informed them they may not use traps anymore. The only reason given then was that the boats used are too small to use traps, but these fishers have done so for 7 years already. So big companies signed up all these small quotas and harvested the lobster with traps. If ring nets are to blame for poor quality lobster catches landed ie. Broken legs and the destruction of the seabed then why not allow all lobster fishers the right to use traps similar to fishers worldwide. The excuse that traps is used only offshore is a farce as fishers experience the use of traps inshore so vast that they have no place to set their ring nets!

The findings of an round table discussion relating to the above labelling is that clearly there should only be two “labels” that of an commercial fisher and that of an recreational fisher. An commercial fisher harvest, sell and even use for own consumption from the resources, whilst recreational is permitted only own consumption.

Let’s examine the recreational fisher and the regulations. Every citizen of South Africa are entitled to harvest marine resources for own consumption albeit this is regulated by laws. Regulation clearly allows the permit holder 10 fish per person per day. The problem here arise from species that directly impact on the fishers livelihoods like tuna, yellowtail and snoek.

Nearly all fishers in the communities state that recreational fishers openly sells their catches and especially snoek and yellowtail overfish their limits. Can you eat 10 of these fish per day? If you keep and freeze for later use then how big is your freezer? Maybe the powers that be should limit species reasonably and add regulations of quantity by mass to be in possession of. Like lobster 4 per day but total of 16 at home, why not 50kg of fish at home? The excuse some recreational fishers use to boast, that the cost of their sport, warrant them to sell their catch is ridiculous especially in the tuna fishery. Surely if you practise any sport you bear the costs yourself or get another sport that you can afford. I don’t hear of a golfer who bought a golf caddy now claim to sell his fish to cover costs, why then a person who bought a boat for their recreational or sport purposes? I was astonished to be shown by the fishers that fishing charter companies actually were granted commercial tuna rights. Thus a loophole is created for the recreational to actually sell his fish to cover his costs of his sport or the charter company is actually paid twice by the sport fisher, once to charter the vessel and then the income of the catch.

The interim relief fishery (IR) now in its 10th year was explained to me as the best example of corruption, discrimination, racism, political favouritism and mismanagement in DAFF. In short, thousand fishers won an Equality court case to be recognised and the government was forced to give these fishers relief until the small scale fishers policy is implemented.

Most fishers agree that the first 4 years of this relief granted was helpful as each year improved on the previous. Then the manipulators and greed mongers got involved as they have seen the opportunity to a get rich quick scheme. Until year 7 DAFF  used a verified set of criteria on the applications of the fishers and this was well managed by the director at DAFF (Sandile). DAFF under new management ADDG Stevens brought an abrupt halt to the fishing industry as can be seen by the disastrous FRAP 2013 (fishing rights allocation process). In the IR, fishing community leaderships were changed, fishers were ousted and replaced with non-fishers.

All communication from the ground with the department blocked unless this was done through these political appointed community representatives.

Reading emails sent to DAFF  from fishers regarding complaints etc and shown the last 3 years of IR fishing regulations, it’s even clear to me that the difference is a reality of non-fishers sitting at DAFF as representing “fisher communities”. These people have no knowledge of the fishing industry or how fishing actually work. The regulations conflict one another and some fishers openly state the recreational permit is better. The representative or “caretaker” now are issued with the permit on behalf of a community with a name list of beneficiaries attached. This caretaker decides who may catch lobster, who to sell it to and what boats to register for fishing. As this caretaker is the one that have to pay you for the lobster, threats is common and a reality and proof of this is shown to me in various communities. Fishers from 12 fishing communities referred me to interview Andries van der Merwe from Gordons Bay. I arranged a meeting and met with him on 4th August 2013.

Arriving at his residence, first glance was that as you would expect of any true fisher, boats in the yard, fish bins stacked, lobster nets getting repaired. Andries looked aggressive like the type that don’t take prisoners, but friendly invited me inside. Asking what I am doing, he explained that on behalf of his fishers he is also busy writing to Noseweek regarding the discrimination against his fishing community. He also shown me that they lodged claims to the public protector and human rights commission.

When I asked him if he weren’t afraid of retribution if I mention his name in the article, he stated that as long as he lived the ocean provided be that legal or illegal and nobody can take the ocean away. “ as long as I can use my hands and feet, I can fish and dive”. Have he received threats?

“ yes, plenty and even now some is actively used against me, DAFF refuse to register our vessels to be used as fishing vessels. My fishers were removed from the IR lists. When they were on the IR lists they were fined R2000 for not attending the caretakers meetings. Some fishers was not even paid a cent for their lobster allocations in IR8  and then removed from the

IR9 lists by the caretaker with DAFF endorsement. I was falsely arrested for fishing, but was not even at sea.”

According to other communities fishers you were a great asset on the IR board (committee) at DAFF when issues and regulations were discussed for the fishers. “ I was representing our fishers until end October 2013, yes each year we learned of our mistakes and improved the regulations etc. so to benefit the fishers at best. See DAFF don’t know the real life we live and how, when, where etc. we catch fish. What is viable and what is not. It’s no use DAFF grant you a fishing right but it’s not viable to harvest that due to restricted regulations or quantum. Chief director Sibuya knew and understood our fishing communities, he once came to visit me at home to get answers to his questions. See that is the way DAFF should work, engage with fishers at ground level before sitting on a high horse and making laws etc.

that will never work. Small examples was the limited resources we had per day, but after showing the facts of viability we amended the regulations to combine the daily limits to harvest all on one day. Even fishing whilst harvesting lobster.”

I noticed that this all changed, if you read the IR8 and IR9 regulations?

“Sandile resigned, Desmond Stevens took over, no more fishers on the DAFF IR board. See those people don’t worry about the other resources on the permit, they only worry about their payment for the lobster not even the harvesting thereof as they modified the regulations that they are able to use commercial fishers. Where did you ever heard a fisher works 8am to 4pm?

You have to phone them if you went fishing, you try phoning them they don’t answer! Look at the joke of the VMS system, this should actually be banned on our vessels as these VMS drain our batteries and we could be left at sea. Our fishers are not financial stable to pay for the permit, but DAFF think that we can afford VMS with contracts! Why don’t DAFF buy us the vms systems and pay the contracts if they think all of us are criminals and need to be tracked.”

Some fishers mentioned that the recreational permit is better than the IR?

“I got recreational fishing vessel permits for the vessels and all our fishers have recreational fishing permits, some lobster as well. As DAFF refuse to register our vessels as IR vessels the recreational fishing vessel permit is valid.”

Why don’t DAFF register your vessels? It’s even clear to me that you are a fisherman of long standing. “you see before the issue of IR8 communal permit, Desmond Stevens took over DAFF. He tried to convince us at the time to sell all the lobster to some company for R200/kg. Now I have been in this game very long and immediately smelled a rat. As I am outspoken I stated that we will accept the best price and nothing less. As the permit belongs to lots of individual fishers it’s their right to choose who what where as individuals. So just before the season opened I requested from Abongile (acting director in Sandile’s place) when can we collect the permit. He then told me he is waiting for Desmond Stevens to let him know what to do as he (desmond Stevens) is personally deciding our permit. I then went to Desmond Stevens at DAFF to confront him as he refused to answer calls.

Desmond Stevens told me to my face that the permit is to be given to John Pretorius and there is nothing I can do about it. He then threatened me to keep quit or I will never be able to go to sea again. If I go to court he will tie the court up for years until I won’t be financial able to continue. If I tried violence , he is the boss of the MK veterans and they have plenty of guns.”

What did you do then? “ I took some time to rethink, but since then I documented every and all correspondence. When FRAP 2013 became public I started to open my mouth against Desmond Stevens and this is the reason that DAFF to this day refuse to register our vessels. IR8 the vessels were registered in September 2014 only this after the season started 15 November 2013 already. For IR9 they refuse till this day.”

If you should recap all the IR years and summarise the worthy progress made, what would that be? “as I said the first couple years we had to deal with teething problems but by IR7 almost 90% problems were solved. The main issue was that our fishers along the coast was “forced” to use commercial vessels for harvesting their lobster. This meant that the vessel the fisher register for lobster can also be used to fish line fish. So as soon as the lobster is landed these vessels go on fishing without the IR fisher as crew.

You can go and look at DAFF records that pre IR7 we only used our own vessels linked directly to our fishers. Since IR8  under the new representatives commercial vessels and their crew were used.”

You mentioned “representatives” more than one? “ yes, John Pretorius was caught and found guilty of poaching undersize cob and DAFF apparently told him to step down and nominate another representative. He nominated Armien Sameuls a pensioner, but all of us know that is only a front. Look at IR8, with one phone call to DAFF they were allowed to legally poach 170kg lobster.” “look at the rights he have and don’t be fooled because the right holder is a different name. Line fish right on the vessel Nikita (right by name Malcolm Baard works for municipality) line fish right on vessel Lindiwe ( right by name Ismail Trenose now a fisherman for 5 years) 2 nearshore lobster rights (his wife and her friend). Everyone knows he owns the vessels and dozens of houses and business in town with government contracts.”

I see all your documents, constitution of the association, membership applications, memberships etc., but you say DAFF refuse to acknowledge the fishing community of Gordons Bay? “ Yes, they refuse to acknowledge us even the fishing village of Sir Lowry’s Pass. As you can see in our correspondence Directors Abongile and Craig refuse us our own entity and force us to be under the non-fishers.”

Why do you say non-fishers? “ here is the lists since IR1 to IR9. The IR verification criteria was used each year till IR7 as you can see in the minutes of the meeting chaired by Director Sibuya from DAFF at the time. I personally submitted our names for IR8 as you can see on the confirmation from Abongile we did this twice. John Pretorius and Desmond Stevens (they are house friends) then came about this IR8 list. Notice all the fishers removed and replaced with non-fishers. If you look at IR9 list notice all the fishers that was removed is also from our association but is those that complained of not getting their lobster payments for IR8. The text in red is the reasons we submitted to DAFF why that individual do not qualify to be on the IR list.”

Then more than 80% do not qualify? “ yes and DAFF refuse to do anything whilst our real fishers struggle to put food on the table. Go to DAFF and ask them for those fishers catch returns and there will be nothing as they never go to sea. Look at last week, they called a meeting, but as usual only certain people are invited, they had to postpone as they could not reach a quorum as the people were at work and this is work not in the fishing industry”

Can I attend this meeting? “ I think you will be ousted if they realize what u are doing. I don’t mind and if you go avoid me. You can talk to me afterwards.”

It’s clear to me, that here is a fisherman of traditional historical heritage, that fights for rights of the fishers in his community. That DAFF is turning a blind eye to the harm their actions is causing the fishers.

This year DAFF have called three meetings with Mr. van der Merwe to try and resolve these conflicts but all these meetings was postponed and never took place. Twice this meetings was cancelled when Mr. van der Merwe and his committee was already at DAFF offices. This all cancelled because John Pretorius said so. Surely an individual cannot order a governmental department to his whims unless this is political and in this case I think racial motivated?

I attended the meeting, held at an Islamic place of worship, side hall.

Twice I was nearly caught when the “chairman” John Pretorius counted us, as I was seated between the observers on the side. The chairman requested all to sign the “attendance form”. I brushed past people just to take a glimpse at the form and as I was told it was a blank form. The meeting was opened by a minute of silence. A fisher put his hand up and informed that “Boetie Gansbaai” is still at the airport and will be late or won’t make the meeting in time. Another fisher said his father is in hospital and cannot come to the meeting. Andries told the meeting that Boetie Fourie and Boetie Erwee both cannot be in attendance as both did not receive messages and Boetie Fourie is at airport and Boetie Erwee at sea returning only on Saturday late. John said the only excuse he accept is if the person contact “Aziz”.  “Kehl” have till days end the next day to furnace an hospital notice. Andries objected to this procedure and said this must reflect in the minutes.

Seated again John stated that the meeting was held as urgent matter as DAFF requested him to submit the minutes and requests to them by 18 August. This include the minutes of the meeting, the attendance register, the signed name list of all IR9 fishers to be on the IR10 list and all to sign a mandate for the IR10 “permit caretaker”. The IR fishers then all went to go sign again, another blank paper. Then John said 8 names is missing and needed replacement. Andries objected as fishers cannot be forced to attend meetings they don’t believe in or send proxy via someone else attending. John said the only proxy he accept is if it’s given to “Aziz”. Andries said that DAFF have the final say in the matter to whom John replied that everyone knows what he say to DAFF is what they do as can be seen the last two years. Andries said he want both comments to reflect in the minutes. John then said there are 5 open spaces left to fill. Andries objected and asked that two minutes ago there were 8 spaces now only 5? 3 persons was deceased and 5 not in attendance? John conferred with “Aziz” and “Armien” and then said only 4 spaces remain. Andries objected again and asked what happened in the last minute did someone came alive again?

John said that its time to verify 4 persons for the openings. Andries said that the verification criteria must be used and all in the hall must be verified as the meeting notice clearly indicated only one point and that was verification of fishers for IR10. Some fishers clapped hands but John stopped them and stated he decides the criteria and everyone can suggest criteria. The people already on the list need not to be verified. Andries said but then this is all wrong as how can you reject one but allow another fitting the same criteria. John said he will use new criteria and the floor mentioned, age, fishing and fish cleaner to be added as criteria. A woman stood up and stated she are number 14 on the list that John promised when they made him chairman two years ago and she is now next to fill a space.

John said that their committee made that decision and the committee decided to scrap that. He asked her if she fishes or clean fish. She said no to both and on the comment that she is old age John told her to leave the hall.

Andries said that how can you decide to reject fishers and replace them with non-fishers, then when the another non-fisher want the space as you promised her avoid her but allow others to remain. Andries said 80% of all in this hall does not fit the criteria and should be replaced with the real fishers.

Andries said he nominate his son as he fits all the criteria. John said he is not present and cannot be nominated. A fisher remarked towards John “wa kom jy vandaan wa het jy visgevang jy pas nie eers in die criteria nie” to which lots started clapping their hands. John said he will not tolerated outbursts and those will be forced to leave the meeting. Upon the fishers laughed. Andries then said who notified all the other people to attend to come and be nominated as our notices of the meeting never suggested this.

John gave no answer. John said those on the list remain and now those that want the spaces must be nominated and elected by the meeting. 4 fishers was then elected from about 20 sitting close to me. Clearly the fishers in attendance was now upset. John requested nominations for caretaker and all must sign mandate for that. Andries said he have no issue whoever the caretaker will be but he wants the criteria and job description outlined as he will not give a mandate for someone who refuse to register fishing vessels , withhold permits and not let fishers fish. John said that is not for discussion and told “Aziz” not to wrote Andries comments in the minutes. Andries and some fishers left the meeting clearly upset. As the fisher next to me stated “ kyk hulle gaan nou weer vir John en Armien kies” it’s what happened. In the confusion I left the meeting. Outside I chatted to a fisher from Sir Lowry’s Pass and clearly not very happy.

“Sien jy dai #$#$#$ (John) ons vang nou vir 2 jaar sy mense wat nie eers visserman kan spel nie se kreef en hy belowe ons gaan ingesit word en da lieg hy alweer. Ek sal nie een van hulle se kreef gaan vang nie.”John came outside and tried to convince the people to go back inside and sign the forms. Some refused and one commented while walking away “ jy is die grootste skelm wat ek in my lewe gesien het”

This here is a clear-cut case where DAFF is co-accomplice in the destruction of the fishers livelihood. It’s clear that to remain in “power” anyone who goes against the chairman/ caretaker is ousted and replaced with a word to DAFF. Even transgressions of the MRLA  is not applicable to the representative/caretaker as John and the other fisher remains on the list.

Listening to the fishers it’s clear that they only keep quiet as they could really lose the lobster income and this has been shown to them as a reality.

When I met with Andries again he laughed when he saw me at the gate. I asked why and he said that could I not see the jokers at the meeting. I told him that it was clear to me that the people is afraid to voice their opinions and it’s clear that most of the people at the meeting is not fishers but placed there to upheld John in power. I asked him what now and he replied the struggle continuous and will try to keep this peaceful but certain fishers is primed to go the physical route hence forth. He will write to the newly appointed DDG and then take matters from there.

How can DAFF allow this happening in fishing communities? Surely DAFF as an governmental department must adhere to our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

by Imraan Rasool




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