KALK Bay fisherman Jacobus Poggenpoel has fought many battles in his life and at the age of 85 he thought his fighting days were over.
But the controversy over the government’s withdrawal of many people’s rights to fish has forced the old salt back into the ring.
“I just can’t sit back and watch what’s going to happen to Kalk Bay fishing village. If we don’t fight this, the powers that be will get what they want.”
Poggenpoel’s forebears were fishing in Kalk Bay from the 1800s. Born in 1928, he is the third generation of fishermen, his sons and nephews the fourth. One of his biggest battles was against the apartheid regime which tried to forcibly remove the coloured community from Kalk Bay. Poggenpoel and his family joined the community and fought against their forced removal – and won.
“We were one of the lucky coloured communities.”
Years later he stood with the fishing community to fight corporate interests that wanted to turn Kalk Bay harbour into a yacht marina for the rich – and won.
Now he has joined the battle to keep the fishing harbour from dying as one fisherman after another has their rights to catch fish for a living taken away. Of the 14 fishing boats only four were granted traditional line fishing rights. If the boats don’t go to sea, it has a ripple effect throughout the community, taking away livelihoods from crew, fish hawkers and flekkers, the women who clean fish in the harbour.
He has joined other fishermen, who are working with the help of faith leaders, to persuade President Jacob Zuma to listen to their pleas. They want Zuma to hear what their problems are. He is determined, but not sure that it is a battle they can win.
“The government talks about heritage being important. Line fishing is Kalk Bay’s heritage and they’re taking that away. I think it’s mostly about politics. If we take what Madiba said, South Africa belongs to everyone who lives here. But it seems to me the government is targeting whites and coloureds and pushing them aside.”
Poggenpoel’s grandfather was a fishermen and was also involved in whaling in the days before there was a harbour and the whale carcasses were winched up on to the flat rocks in front of what is now Harbour House. The family crewed for others, saved their money and bought their first boat, the Anna Amelia. They sold that and in the 1940s had a new wooden fishing boat built by the boatbuilders in the docks. It was called the Marion Dawn and cost £8 000. The Marion Dawn still works from Kalk Bay. Poggenpoel’s sons now do the fishing.
The Poggenpoel family formed a close corporation, and that was their nemesis. Poggenpoel’s son, also Jacobus, said the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries told them they could not apply for traditional handline fishing rights as a company, only as an individual. The department allowed them to catch lobster, which keeps the Marion Dawn afloat. They have another vessel, which catches pilchards, but they lost their right to catch tuna.
When they catch lobster they use a crew of seven. When they used to catch line fish, they had a crew of 14. They pay for fuel and the crew pay for bait. The crew get 60 percent of the day’s takings.
Both father and son believe it is unfair that they had their rights taken away. They also believe it is wrong that the fisheries department gives rights to people who have no boats or access to boats. They said that previously having no proven access to a boat automatically excluded an applicant from getting a line fish right.
“If you don’t have access to a boat, you can’t fish. Now they give permits to new entrants who don’t have boats. And if these wooden boats don’t work, they sit in the harbour and deteriorate. It’s not right,” Poggenpoel jr said.
He pointed to a wooden boat, Star of the Sea, which has been out of the water for repairs for more than a year. The owner has no fishing rights and cannot pay for repairs. No one knows what will happen to the old vessel.
“It’s almost as if they say: ‘You’ve been fishing for long enough so give your right to someone else.’ We’ve been doing this for centuries so why do we have to stop?”
The department was asked to comment but did not reply.