Cape Town - Linefish hawkers and crew have used the recent outrage over fishing rights allocations to mobilise.
Last week, a new organisation – the Traditional Khoisan Marine Hawkers Association (TKMHA) – was formed to lobby for a better deal for hawkers in the fishing sector.
The association has been welcomed by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The department is committed to providing infrastructure, support and training for hawkers – a key towards bringing about “transformation” in the sector, according to deputy director-general Desmond Stevens.
Stevens said a formal hawkers’ association was a step toward bringing the department and hawkers into closer and more regular contact.
On New Year’s Eve the majority of linefishing rights holders found their rights to carry on operations into the new year had not been granted.
Their representative, the SA Commercial Linefish Association (Sacla), encouraged hawkers and crew to show solidarity with the rights holders.
Rights holders generally own the boats on which crew members are employed and on which fish hawkers are reliant for catches to sell.
The refusal of around 180 rights for established rights holders, effective from January 1, had the collateral effect of leaving hundreds of crew and hawkers without an income.
“As a result we were willing to rally behind the rights holders, because our livelihoods were lost along with theirs,” explains Faldie Samuels, chairman of the TKMHA.
But the hawkers’ association fell out with rights holders after Sacla chairman Wally Croombe accused them of having “gatecrashed” a meeting to resolve the rights allocation impasse with the department last week.
An angry backlash from Samuels saw him grab the microphone at a joint rights holder, hawker and crew meeting at the Oceana Club in Granger Bay last week. In a later interview with the Cape Argus, he accused Croombe of wanting to see a continuation of the status quo in which crew and hawkers were seen as nothing but “boys and servants” to the “masters” (that is, rights holders).
“Let me tell you how the linefishing industry works,” Samuels said. “Crew do all the work, yet 50 percent of the income from the catch goes to the boat owner (rights holder). If you make R20 000 off a catch, R10 000 goes to the boat holder and R10 000 gets distributed among the 10 crew members. From that money the crew have to buy bait and fuel for the next fishing trip. It is ridiculously unfair.”
Croombe said hawkers and rights holders had always had a tense relationship and that the meeting’s getting rowdy was not the first incident. “At the end of the day we have to work together because we need each other. I agree that there needs to be a representative organisation for hawkers, but they need to be constructive in partnering and communicating with the rights holders. There is no animosity from our side.”
Stevens agreed that this “institutionalised inequality” was in desperate need of transformation. He said the allocation of 100 rights to new entrants was underpinned, in part, by a transformation agenda – one which would see formerly disadvantaged stakeholders in the fishing industry gain a bigger share in the revenue.
The TKMHA emphasises the generational heritage of the fishing sector, with its members claiming their great-grandfathers were fishermen. It also claims the ancestry of the Khoisan people, who were the first people to fish off the Western Cape’s coast.
“It is time that we are finally allowed to enjoy the resources of the ocean that have been denied to us through colonialism, apartheid and ongoing inequality,” Samuels said.
Stevens stressed there was “space enough” for former rights holders in the transformation towards a new and more equal dispensation. He stressed the importance of traditional rights holders, crew and hawkers working together towards realising this goal.