The contentious issue of fishing rights in the Eastern Cape came to a head on Wednesday as more than 70 people staged a peaceful protest at the Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries in Port Elizabeth.
Protesters said they would continue the sit-in until Minister Senzeni Zokwana addressed their concerns.
Protester‚ Gilberts Kido‚ said the sit-in follows a hunger strike that was just suspended on Tuesday. Five people fasted for seven days‚ and Kido said he hoped Wednesday’s protest would increase pressure on government officials to accommodate their demands.
“The people are tired of hearing promises‚” Kido said. “So they decided that this is a now or never action‚ and it will continue indefinitely until these demands are met. It very well [could last days].”
Kido said fishermen‚ processers‚ and divers had gathered to advocate for small-scale fisheries. He said the minister and senior officials had made a series of promises in April‚ but none had been fulfilled and frustrations were intensifying.
“The coastal fisher folk‚ they’ve never had access to rights‚” said Gavin Roberts‚ a fisherman from Jeffery’s Bay in the Eastern Cape.
Roberts said large companies monopolised the seas‚ leaving small fisheries in a increasingly impoverished state.
“Government must take notice of the Eastern Cape. It’s a poverty-stricken area‚” he said. “From here‚ moving forward we will just be more militant. We want it to be effective.”
Police spokesperson Captain Johan Rhede said a police vehicle was sent to the department building‚ but there was no disruption to report.
Kido said protesters were given specific instructions not to injure people or damage infrastructure.
“The police came to assess the situation. They were here for around 40 minutes. The police were satisfied‚ and the management are also satisfied that it is indeed a peaceful protest and our objectives are noble.”
Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries spokesperson Palesa Mokomele said she had no knowledge of the protest.