Western Cape - Families in the small fishing community of Velddrif on the West Coast have bare cupboards and no money for food.
Seasonal workers at Foodcorp’s Marine Products factory were left penniless after being told that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery was withholding Foodcorp’s 2013 fishing permits.
Foodcorp is the third-largest food company in South Africa and its Marine Products Division predominantly catches and cans Glenryck pilchards as well as anchovy and hake.
A Weekend Argus team visited the area last week and was met with stories of hardship and poverty.
Single mothers said they were unable to afford school fees for their children – let alone feed them.
“That factory is our lifeline, it puts money in our pockets, and keeps the economy of the town going. Without it, this will be a ghost town,” one worker said.
A group of about 500 factory workers and residents demonstrated in the town on Friday, under the banner of the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu), to highlight their plight and call for government intervention.
Workers complained that their bosses had not been updating them on the situation.
Susan Zog, 56, of Laaiplek (a suburb in Velddrif), has been a seasonal worker at Marine Products for 22 years and, in that time, this was the first year the boats had not been out in January.
“If we had known there would be no work after Christmas we could have made a plan, maybe spent less over the big days.
“But now we have no income and have to rely on family to survive.”
Nonesi Gulwa, 35, said she left Transkei to find work at the factory in Velddrif. Her modest home is cosy but her cupboards are bare.
“We have nothing to eat. I have four children and my youngest is four. I do not know what I can do. My children are hungry and I have nothing left,” she said.
Single mother Jessica Jones, 31, said that without work this year, she and her seven-month-old baby had to depend on her father.
“This has not been easy. It’s not knowing what will happen in the future that is the worst. For now we can only hope that the problem will be resolved and we will go back to work,” she said.
Another worker pleaded with the government to intervene.
“We can’t afford to sit at home. It’s terrible not being able to go to work. People are struggling so much and you can’t rely on your neighbour because they are in the same boat,” said Jomo Ntcokombini.
Ntcokombini, 36, has been a seasonal worker for eight years.
Originally from Transkei, he settled down in Velddrif with his wife, who also works at the factory.
“We came back after the holidays only to find that there’s no work.
For most people January is a hard month, but there will be no pay day for us at the end of the month.”
Tiko Sotashe, a father of three, said that if he didn’t work soon, his family would be in trouble.
“We have no food, no money and our children rely on us to provide for them.
“All we were told was that there’s a problem with the fishing quotas. And, since the start of the year, the company’s boats have not gone out to sea,” he said.