SA fishing communities hit beaches to push back oil and gas exploration

fishing communities

Starting on Human Rights Day, in the past week, small-scale fishing communities took to beaches along South Africa’s coastline – from Kwazulu-Natal to the Eastern, Western and the Northern Cape, in an effort to create awareness of the ongoing threat to the ocean from oil and gas drilling and exploration.

The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy, who has been working with numerous fishing communities for almost a year, as part of the environmental justice organisation’s #WhoStoleOurOceans campaign, says that destroying the ocean is a violation of the human rights of those fisherwomen and men who depend on the ocean to live.

“Apart from not wanting oil and gas projects because it threatens their homes and the ocean, their main source of income and dignity, a key issue is the blatant disregard of people’s right to meaningful participation – especially when these projects could infringe on people’s human rights and on their right to a healthy environment.

“Since South Africa’s coastal communities are made up largely of indigenous peoples, who have a long history of being subject to human rights abuses, it is particularly disheartening when government and the oil and gas companies propose big, high-risk projects with zero consideration for these communities. This is not right. No-one has told them how their communities and way of life will be affected,” says van Rooy.  

He says that the Green Connection is very concerned that it seems that the human rights of South Africa’s small-scale fishing communities are not being protected from a snowballing trend in SA where government is pushing projects that risk further disadvantaging already-disadvantaged communities in the name of development. All this, so that a few elite can turn a profit.

“Why does our government not learn from the many lessons that we have observed from around the world, over the years? Operation Phakisa is more like a death sentence than it is a solution for our people,” adds van Rooy.

“By risking small-scale fishers’ main source of sustenance and income, government is complicit in sabotaging those citizens who are trying to carve out an honourable life for themselves. These coastal communities have their own ideas for developing their regions, which are more inclusive, has the potential to create sustainable livelihoods, but that is not harmful to the environment.”

Sherelee Odayar Project Officer South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) says, “On 21 March 2021, Human Rights Day, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and our partners joined a nationwide initiative to raise awareness and show solidarity for ocean protection on the Durban Beach front Promenade.

“This event was brought on by SDCEA because of the current applications to drill for oil and gas in our ocean. This drilling has the potential to destroy our beautiful ocean heritage as well as negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on the ocean for a living, like the fisherfolk, tourism and recreational industry.”

Ntsindiso Ncgavu with Coastal Links Port St. John’s says, “During this month, South Africans are called on to celebrate human rights. But, how can celebrate Human Rights May when we, the small-scale fishers of South Africa are always neglected by government. From basic service delivery, like decent roads and infrastructure for our communities, to our fishing rights not been respected. Big companies always seem to be receiving better treatment than us. Our rights are truly violated.

“We heard about a local development that is planned, a mall and harbour to be built in Port St John’s. But, no-one came to the community to consult us about such developments. The same with mining in the ocean for oil and gas, no-one came to consult with us. We are not recognised, just cast aside because we are the small-scale fisherman of this area.

“Our human rights is not being respected at all by our government who are prioritising multinational companies above us. We were supposed to start fishing our lobster at the beginning of March but because of conflict between companies about the area there is all sorts of restrictions for us. We called the department to intervene but little responses from them. How can we still allow oil and gas drilling in our ocean, when our rights as fishing communities are not recognised or respected?”

Barend Fredericks from Hornlee in Knysna says, “We, the small-scale fishers of South Africa, have the right to economic development and growth of the country. We also have the right to good nutrition, which for us, comes from the ocean.

“For this, we need a healthy ocean to put food on our tables and to enjoy. We support this nationwide protest this Human Rights month because we need the rights of small-scale fishing communities – who are mostly indigenous peoples who are historically disadvantaged – to be put at the top of the list. Oil and gas will destroy the ocean. Marine life will be destroyed and wiped out. This is a problem for us small-scale fishers who rely on a healthy ocean to put food on the table.”

Image: The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) joined the nationwide beach protest because of current applications for offshore oil and gas drilling, which has the potential to negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on the ocean for a living, like the fisher folk, tourism and recreational industry.

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