ZainAP Abrahams and her son, Shaheed, make a living scavenging for prawns and worms to sell to local fisherman as bait.    Brendan Magaar African News Agency (ANA)
ZainAP Abrahams and her son, Shaheed, make a living scavenging for prawns and worms to sell to local fisherman as bait. Brendan Magaar African News Agency (ANA)

Making a living from scavenging off a Cape Town beach

By Nathan Adams Time of article published Jun 20, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - Sitting on the promenade wall at Strand beach, Zainap Abrahams watches the waves of the ocean, waiting for her chance to scavenge. 

Next to her is her son, Shaheed Abrahams, and her granddaughter, Gadieja Abrahams.

The family live in a nearby township, but every day they walk to the ocean to dig, scratch and scour the rocks for worms and prawns to sell to fishermen and women.

Abrahams recounts how she grew up near the ocean. “I was actually born in the Bo Kaap, but I grew up here in Strand. My parents divorced and then we moved to Strand with my mother to stay with her parents, my grandparents.”

Her father was a fisherman so her livelihood was always tied to the ocean. She was never married and said her daughter left her with her granddaughter and doesn’t help support Gadieja.

Abrahams said when the lockdown began at the end of March it was a turning point for her family.

“Things were fine because we lived in the house with my sister until her son was released from prison. He was released from jail and everything that I tried to build, he destroyed I had to leave for our own safety.”

Out on the streets, she had to make a plan and find a place of safety for her son and granddaughter.

“A friend of mine who I’ve known for years, he’s trying to help us and allowed us to move into his backyard and now we live in an abandoned car - there’s nowhere else to go,” she said.

Scavenging along the coastline, Abrahams and Shaheed not only know where to find the worms and prawns in the ocean, they also know who to sell it to. 

They collect their seafood treasure in bottles and then sell it to fisherman. Abrahams said she had regular customers who bought from her. 

“I will sell a bottle of worms or prawns for R100 and R50 for a half a bottle.”

And when the stay-at-home orders kicked in, the beaches were off-limits so she had to come up with another way to earn an income. 

“I would come to the beach when I saw there was no one here and quickly collect what I could.”

Having something to barter with, Abrahams went to the homes of fishermen she knew well to sell the worms and prawns to them.

“Even if they just gave me R20 it was something for the three of us to survive on.”

Recreational fishing was only permitted at the beginning of the month when lockdown level 3 restrictions came into effect. The Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries estimates that South Africa’s commercial and recreational fishing industry contributes between R4-R5 billion annually to the economy. Lockdown restrictions curtailed local productions but exports were still permitted under strict conditions.

For Abrahams, the lockdown meant that surviving every day became even more challenging, but she said they were still grateful for the little they had.

“We did lose a lot of clothes because it was outside and in the rain they were mouldy and we had to throw them away.”

But she makes do with what she has, and always keeps her one eye on the ocean and the other on her granddaughter as they wait for the tide to come in.


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