Fishers urged to form alliances with mining affected communities

A protest by small-scale fishers and coastal communities in East London, 2017, against Operation Phakisa. Photo supplied

Small-scale fishers and coastal communities participated in the Alternative Mining Indaba where they shared their experiences of corporate greed with communities affected by mining.

During a speak-out held in Salt River on Monday evening as part of the Alternative Mining Indaba, fishers and activists agreed that there is a need to form alliances with other struggles and make connections between the mining companies and big corporations that are involved in the ocean economy. Professor Moenieba Isaacs from the University of the Western Cape said that the World Bank saw in the drowning of small island states an opportunity for tapping wealth from the oceans in the ‘blue economy’. Isaacs who is based at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) said that African states have facilitated the exploitation of the ocean by big oil and gas companies over the lives of those who make a living from the ocean. “The states have created the framework for development that promotes extractivism rather than to promote the livelihoods of small-scale fishers,” she said.

Mercia Andrews from Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) said that it is important to recognise that fishers don’t live in the sea but on land and that they need to be involved in community and societal issues.

Fishers experience with Shell and government

“Some of the problems we face are because the government registered us as a communal property association instead of a co-operative. The government ditched us before we could get compliance documents as we just have a mere certificate. We do not have good experiences with government in the Eastern Cape,” said Ntsindiso Nongcavu, a fisherman from Port St Johns, in the northern parts of the province.

According to Nongcavu, sixteen cooperatives in Port St Johns sought help from SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency) but the agency brought in commercial companies to exploit them. “When Shell came to our communities, it used traditional authorities to convince and threaten people to agree to the drilling for oil in the sea. The threat from the traditional authorities was that we were standing in the way of jobs and development in the area. But when we met with Shell leadership they told us that the project was going to create 150 jobs of which 100 out of that were going to be permanent and for skilled workers. Only 50 jobs were going to go to locals and they were going to be short-term,” he said.

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West Coast small-scale fishing communities, Coastal Links, Masifundise and other organisations protesting against seismic blasting in the West Coast. Photo supplied.

On the West Coast, fishers said they fought against the Karpowership project as it would harm their livelihoods. Carmelita Mostert from Saldhana said that they were not consulted on the Karpowership project as small-scale fishers. “They only spoke to the politicians. They were supposed to speak to everyone including small-scale fishers. With the help of Masifundise we approached courts and the politicians were not happy with that,” she said.

Karpowership’s website, a powership is a self-floating power station which runs on natural liquid gas to generate power and the onboard substation is connected via overhead cables from the ship’s own transmission tower to the national grid.

According to Mostert their protests have succeeded in forcing the ship to sail away. “The fact that the ship was going to pump the hot water back into the ocean meant that it was going to affect the fish and our livelihoods. That was going to affect the only income that we have.”

Zakhele Nkamisa from Port St Johns shared an experience of a poacher ship that was anchored near where they fish for a few days in 2017. He said that they could not get help from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the province. “We thought it was there for research but we later learned that it was poachers from China. The sound from the engine of the boat would rattle the cupboards in our houses and that is how bad it was. The sardine run that we used to have disappeared,” said Nkamisa.

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“From what we could see and are told, the Shell seismic survey for oil and gas included drilling and blasting down into the bowels of the ocean. This means that during the blast, the fish would be killed and that is why we were part of the resistance campaign. Our lives depend on the ocean and fish. We have teachers, policeman and doctors who were able to access education from selling the fish,” he said.

Activist, Alex Hotz urged the fishers and coastal communities to form alliances with mining affected communities as they are all affected by the greed and the agenda of corporates and to be able to exercise their ‘Right To Say No’.

The fishers have this year formed part of the Alternative Mining Indaba taking place in Cape Town.

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