Mitchell’s Plain fisherfolk are reclaiming their heritage of living off the sea and cultivating the tourism economy in their backyard.
They hosted a heritage celebration at the boat launch site at Sonwabe, on Thursday October 5, which culminated with the opening of a fishing exhibition at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) Cape Flats, at the Rotary Club, in Camp Road Strandfontein. The celebration had intially been planned for Heritage Day, September 24, but was hampered by storms.
Mitchell’s Plain Fishing Forum chairwoman Bridget Oppelt said their mandate was to ensure members’ have fishing rights and permits to “live off the sea”.
“Coupled with this is the need for resources close to home, where fishermen don’t have to go far from home to be able to put food on the table,” she said.
Ms Oppelt said they had been fighting and struggling for more than a decade for the community to enjoy the coastline on their doorstep.
“Various partners were invited to showcase and plough back into the community the opportunities available in maritime on and off the coast. We want to collaborate with as many people to bring their expertise and experience to create a flourishing eco and tourism community,” she said.
Ms Oppelt explained with co-operatives, fisherfolk were able to organise themselves into smaller groups who could focus on certain aspects of the fishing and tourism industry.
Sonwabe Fishing and Tourism Front, a collaboration of co-operatives, has been put in place to access opportunities for local fisherfolk.
Guests included South African Football Association (SAFA) president Bennett Bailey, Shipping and Transport Southern Africa deputy general director and training centre manager Patrick Kleinbooi, representatives from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, City of Cape Town and councillor for Ward 79 and coastline development champion Danny Christians.
Mr Christians said it was important for the community to discuss matters with the municipality.
He said that the recent floods and infrastructure damage would impact development on the False Bay coastline.
“Strong winds, long rolling waves and sand migration would impact future development here. We must be careful how we develop this piece of land and it should be in accordance with the City,” he said.
Mr Christians said the Sonwabe Beach launching site was a hard fought battle .
“Sonwabe meaning ‘Lekker Plek’ will add further to tourism opportunities on the False Bay coastline,” he said.
“Three years ago the City of Cape Town denied ever receiving an application or plans to make the False Bay coastline, bordering Strandfontein and Mitchell’s Plain, a tourist destination and developing an economy for the ‘black coastal communities’. (“Upset over demolition”, Plainsman June 3 2020).
At the time Strandfontein resident Igshaan Carstens, founder of Strandfontein Agricultural, Aquamarine and Boating Association (SAAMBA), formerly known as Strandfontein Boating Association (SBA), said they had asked the City to maintain and manage the Sonwabe ablution block, which was demolished on Sunday May 17, 2020.
Commercial line fisherman Rasheed Dawray, from Grassy Park, said fishing was a high risk job with minimum rewards and that it was important to cast one’s net wider, in the opportunity pool.
“To have various groups of people work together — to make the tourism industry work and how else the community living on the coast can benefit,” he said.
Mr Dawray said fuel took a huge chunk of his income to move his boat from Grassy Park to 340km to Lambert’s Bay 800km to Port Nolloth and Miller’s Point.
“Fishing is seasonal and I have to go where the fish are,” he said.
He said just to get to sea cost him a minimum of R5 000, for fuel, vehicle and bait.
Not forgetting maintaining the boat, having permits and ensuring all legal requirements are met.
He said Sonwabe boat launch site would alleviate traffic as vehicles transporting boats would be limited, as cars behind them would not be frustrated by their low speed limits because of their vehicle weight.
Another fisherman Monray Williams, from Lentegeur, who lost his brother Donovan Jeremy Williams, from Lentegeur, almost three years ago (“’Plain fishers perish”, Plainsman December 3, 2020), said that being at sea was high risk, that they needed more support and insurance from the government.
“If the breadwinner is lost at sea then what support is there or alternatives for the family,” he asked.
Eddie Andrews, the City’s deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said that a few years ago the local community asked for a launch site to be established in the area.
The only available option for establishing a “beach launch site”, as per the community’s request, was Sonwabe because it has an existing car park directly on the beach making the distance across the sand the shortest; on a calm day the waves are smallest here and there are no immediate offshore reefs.
Mr Andrews said that beach launching was high risk and that Sonwabe should only be used by very experienced skippers; and only on very calm days with very small waves.
The launch site is most suitable for jet skis and racing rubber ducks.
Anyone launching at Sonwabe must have a valid skippers ticket; a registered vessel with a valid South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) safety certificate and a Depository Trust Company (DTC) number; all safety equipment and life vests; and vehicles used to launch the boat must stay between the demarcation bollards on the beach area
“This is a public launch site, meaning those who meet the requirements are allowed to launch from the site,” said Mr Andrews.
The exhibition is open for viewing by appointment and has a small kitchen, which can supply refreshments.
On Thursday guests were treated to various samples of fried fish — harder, smoked snoek, dried fish, kingklip, calamari, angel and hake.
For more information, call Ms Oppelt on 073 205 6789.