01 June 2005

Groups seek battle plan to overturn fishing rights policy

Unions, non-government organisations and human rights groups, angered by the government's policy on long-term fishing rights, are to meet today to discuss ways of fighting back.

Ignoring their calls for a moratorium, Environment and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has gone ahead in announcing the policy and has vowed to meet challenges "head-on".

Two attempts are under way to counter the policy.

An NGO, the Masifundise Development Trust, launched legal proceedings against Van Schalkwyk's department in September. The case is to be heard by the Equality Court after its winter recess.

A Nedlac meeting, initiated by the Food and Allied Workers Union and in which fishermen and other interest groups are to take part, is to be held tomorrow.

Today, a meeting of roleplayers would bring together community groups, a number of trade unions and some large fishing companies to thrash out a plan of action that could include strikes, Andy Johnson, chairman of the Artisanal Fishers' Association, said yesterday.

"What the minister has done was dictatorial. We feel we have been betrayed," Johnson said.

"He said there had been widespread consultation, but most of the meetings were not geared towards many people on the ground.

"Fisherfolk who live in townships do not have access to the information and the media and the department is not prepared to go where the people are. Then the minister claims his department has consulted more than 6 000 fishermen. We found this odd as we carried out a survey that showed there were an estimated 3 500 fishermen."

To further their cause against the fishing rights policy, letters seeking solidarity with them in their battle had been sent to a number of international fishermen's organisations, Johnson said.

"I'm also going to Berlin to address a conference of the FoodFirst Information and Action Network with Human Rights against Hunger, an international NGO that also has the interests of fishermen at heart, and later we will be making a presentation to a UN group.

"Van Schalkwyk did what no other minister has done. He brought together people to unite for a common cause.

"The only other time that this has happened was when we fought apartheid."

The Masifundise Development Trust said it was alarmed and shocked by "the veiled threats" Van Schalkwyk had made in referring to their court case against his department and other cases that might follow because of the policy.

Masifundise's director, Naseegh Jaffer, said the NGO considered Van Schalkwyk's attitude unacceptable because everyone had the democratic right to challenge government policy and hold its public representatives accountable.

"Instead of spending our hard-earned taxes on defending this policy, the minister should rather spend it on the alleviation of poverty and the protection of livelihoods, to mention but a few (areas of need).

"As an NGO that has been doing development work in the rural traditional fishing communities on the west and south coasts for seven years, we initiated legal proceedings... to challenge the department to acknowledge traditional artisanal fishers according to the Marine Living Resources Act and international protocols endorsed by the cabinet."

Source: www.capetimes.co.za


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