Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz Photo: African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – Curbing poaching, especially that of abalone, in the Overberg area won't be easy. Even making it a category A crime, with it falling within the parameters of serious organised crime, as Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz suggests, might not be enough of a deterrent.

This has emerged from comments the MEC made on a report by Western Cape Police Ombudsman JJ Brand on the poaching of abalone, which "substantiated" a complaint on inefficiencies at the Gansbaai, Kleinmond, Hermanus and Stanford police stations, as well as remarks Fritz made on CapeTalk on Wednesday morning.

Fritz acknowledged that diminishing fishing quotas has led local fishermen to resort to poaching, crime and drugs. 

Where children used to follow in their fishermen fathers' footsteps, doing subsistence fishing, this is no longer an option.

Fritz sketched a harsh reality: "In that area (Overberg), children are paid for poaching and they are paid in the currency of drugs."

Worse still, organised crime in the form of gangsters have increasingly made their way from the Cape Flats to the Overberg area.

In fact, alleged gang leader Ernie "Lastig" Solomons relocated some of his operations to Hawston in 2000 already. This led to violent clashes between alleged Cape Flats gangsters and the community.

Three key takeaways from the report for Fritz is that abalone poaching must be treated like organised crime, so that it can be dealt with by the organised crime unit and not local policemen, who end up being victimised by gangs.

Another point is the need for an Environmental Court to fast-track abalone cases in the Overberg area and, of course, reclassifying abalone as an category A and not a category B crime. 

"Poaching plays an incredble role in that whole area and poaching is still classified as a category B crime. 

"The poaching of abalone is like the stealing of bread, while it is part of an organised crime syndicate operating in that area and in South Africa. That is the fundamental point this report speaks to.

"Local policemen who live in the area are expected to deal with this when they are victimised by the local gangs. And we have seen the connection between abalone and drugs, and you all know Ernie Lastig has moved there for a while. 

"What happened in the last three weeks is that every single accused or suspect that was arrested in the Hermanus area, were gangsters running away from Cape Town. All of them are now there."

Some of the recommendations made in the report, which Fritz said he would give effect to, are: "It was suggested that the matter be urgently referred to Minister of Police Bheki Cele to address the poor police-to-population ratio and vehicle allocations for detectives in the Overberg cluster. 

"Ensure that organised projects regarding poaching are initiated and investigated by the Organised Crime Unit of the SAPS. 

"Abalone poaching should be classified as an organised crime in terms of Section 16 of the South African Police Service Act, Act 68 of 1995.

"Establish an Environmental Court in consultation with the National Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development. Categorise abalone poaching as a serious crime, in line with rhino poaching. 

The recommendations further requested that:

* The provincial minister of Environmental Affairs address the backlog concerning the disposal of abalone at the storage facilities with the National Minister of Environmental Affairs and Fisheries.

* The Department of Community Safety ensure an urgent improvement in the recruitment of accredited Neighbourhood Watch structures in the Overstrand area. 

“I would like to thank the ombudsman for sharing these insightful recommendations, which are rooted in empirical evidence. I will work closely with the necessary stakeholders to ensure that these recommendations are reviewed and implemented,” Fritz said.