Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana. Picture: GCIS
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana. Picture: GCIS

Protesting fishermen used rope to barricade themselves in the foyer of a government building in Cape Town on Monday to draw attention to their grievances.

The group of about 60‚ mostly from fishing communities in the southern peninsula‚ tied the front door entrance of the Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries closed‚ insisting on a meeting with Minister Senzeni Zokwana.

Protesters shouted and slammed their fists against a metal detector at the front reception‚ prompting security personnel to intervene.

The group dispersed after handing over a memorandum to department officials in the absence of the minister‚ who is currently in China. A follow-up meeting with the minister has been scheduled for next week.

Several protesters said fishing communities were struggling to survive due to the department’s recent fishing quota allocations‚ which they claimed favoured large companies at the expense of new entrants.

The group also says it has been routinely ignored by senior officials‚ including the minister‚ despite the department’s professed developmental agenda.

"It is a sad reality that many South African governmental departments only react when communities are at the end of their tether, and are forced to resort to acts of civil disobedience and public unrest to have their voices heard‚" the memorandum said.

The department had also failed to implement the long-awaited small-scale fishing policy‚ as per an equality court order several years ago‚ the fishers said in the memorandum. In the interim, several communities had largely been excluded from commercial fishing rights allocations.

"We no longer believe or trust your department and officials who continually mislead communities into believing that there is relief in sight‚" the memorandum said.

South African United Fishing Front (SAUFF) spokesperson Pedro Garcia said Monday’s protest was also prompted by the latest west coast rock lobster allocations‚ which he said favoured established companies at the expense of traditional fishing communities.

"Communities are tired. This is no longer a fight about rights; it is now turning into a fight for survival‚" Garcia said.

SAUFF is calling for a coastal "buffer zone" for exclusive use by traditional fishing communities. The organisation also wants a ban on lobster traps, which it claims are destroying the natural marine environment and destroying valuable fish stocks.

"Fish are moving further afield‚ out of the reach of local fishermen‚" Garcia said. "[The department] needs to come to the party. They can’t keep saying they have a developmental approach and talk about restoring rights when there is every indication that they are marginalising the small guys even further."

The department could not be reached for comment.

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