Per­lie thugs crush poor com­mu­nity

Cape Argus - - METRO - MOENIEBA ISAACS Moenieba Isaacs is an aca­demic and re­searcher with the In­sti­tute for Poverty, Land and Agrar­ian Stud­ies (Plaas) at UWC.

FISH­ING com­mu­ni­ties are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly poor and more vul­ner­a­ble.

And to think it all started the day fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties were in­cor­po­rated into the for­mal rights al­lo­ca­tion sys­tem in 1998 and had to ap­ply for abalone and cray­fish rights. This sys­tem in­ad­ver­tently proved to have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on their liveli­hood.

Which brings me to my re­search on the women from the fish­ing com­mu­nity of Buf­fel­jags­baai, a ru­ral fish­ing vil­lage close to the south­ern tip of South Africa, 170km from Cape Town.

It’s a small, ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­nity of only 300 peo­ple.

Shell­fish abalone, known lo­cally as “per­lie” or per­lemoen, is in high de­mand, par­tic­u­larly from the Far East. In South Africa, abalone is heav­ily re­stricted, but il­le­gal har­vest­ing by or­gan­ised crim­i­nal net­works has caused stocks to plum­met.

Abalone poach­ing in South Africa is highly il­le­gal, car­ry­ing se­vere penal­ties, but in Buf­fel­jags­baai the women’s eco­nomic de­pen­dence and vul­ner­a­bil­ity means they are reg­u­larly ex­ploited by lo­cal and out­side poach­ers and co­erced into en­gag­ing in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, with dire con­se­quences.

A lack of al­ter­na­tives, com­pounded by the lure of easy money, drives many in the com­mu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in il­le­gal poach­ing. Many women in the Buf­fel­jags­baai com­mu­nity have hus­bands, sons, part­ners or broth­ers en­gaged in il­le­gal abalone poach­ing.

Tra­di­tional en­gen­dered roles con­se­quently en­trap these women in sup­port­ing these poach­ing ac­tiv­i­ties by pre­par­ing food, clean­ing wet­suits, stor­ing catch bags in their freez­ers and per­mit­ting boats to park on their prop­er­ties.

One of the big­gest chal­lenges has been the shift from poach­ing as a small-scale lo­cal ac­tiv­ity, to the in­flux of highly or­gan­ised ex­ter­nal gangs and crime syn­di­cates, de­stroy­ing lo­cal liveli­hoods and in­creas­ing fear and de­spair. There are strong al­le­ga­tions that crim­i­nal syn­di­cates have made in­roads into lo­cal law en­force­ment, which only adds to the dan­gers fac­ing the com­mu­nity.

Al­le­ga­tions abound of rack­e­teer­ing and cor­rup­tion from the lo­cal level right up to the high­est reaches in the gov­ern­ment. Ask your­self the ques­tion: what hap­pens af­ter abalone is con­fis­cated? You will prob­a­bly come up with some in­ter­est­ing sce­nar­ios in your own mind.

Un­der the aus­pices of blue growth poli­cies, the Buf­fel­jags­baai com­mu­nity land has been ear­marked as a prime abalone aqua­cul­ture zone, and ap­por­tioned to large com­pa­nies.

How­ever, there has been lit­tle con­sul­ta­tion or lo­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion in this process, and there is re­sis­tance from the com­mu­nity who want an own­er­ship stake in any fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.

The women of Buf­fel­jags­baai face an on­go­ing strug­gle to have their voices heard and their needs met against a back­drop of one of the most di­vi­sive and po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive is­sues fac­ing vul­ner­a­ble coastal com­mu­ni­ties in South Africa.

Moenieba Isaacs

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