They’re Hangberg’s “Magnificent Seven” – a group of men who’ve turned their backs on poaching and are training as professional divers to forge better lives for their families and blaze a trail for their community.
For Denton Davids, Alphonso Wichman, Stefan Braaf, Dorian Williams, Marcelo Louw, Richard Guenantin and Navan Adonis, the ocean they have come to know so well also represents a baptism of new beginnings.
Shortly before taking to the water on Monday this week, Mr Guenantin told the Sentinel the opportunity had come at the “right time”.
“It is difficult to see a future in poaching, which is why we have decided to turn our backs on it. This is the best thing that could have happened,” he said.
Mr Adonis believes the programme will have a positive effect on everyone.
“This is a chance for us to make a legal living. There will be no need to run from the cops anymore.”
Their training comes as the Department of Public Works and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries start a R10 million salvage of the 22 wrecks in Hout Bay harbour as part of Operation Phakisa, the state’s plan to tap into the country’s blue economy.
Salvage firm Guerrini Marine Construction (GMC) won the tender, and Gordon’s Bay-based dive school Jack’s Dive Chest was brought on board to help with the salvage operation. It will also train local divers.
According to Hangberg businessman Angelo Joseph, who is sourcing semi-skilled labour for the project, Hangberg residents have been waiting years for just such an opportunity.
“Four years ago, we organised ourselves into fishing co-operatives and it was agreed that each co-operative would put forward one diver for training. Unfortunately, there was no movement on the salvaging, and people lost interest,” he said.
“However, when GMC won the tender, we met with them to discuss their plans for employing local labour as part of the project. GMC is paying for the training of five divers, and Jack’s Dive Chest the rest. There has been so much interest in the training among informal fishers.”
He said Adrian Guerrini, GMC’s owner, had already done a lot for the Hout Bay community ”and now this opportunity has come along”.
Mr Joseph said it was a little-known fact among the public at large that when the tourist boat Miroshga capsized in 2012, leading to the deaths of two people, informal fishers from Hangberg were part of one of the biggest sea rescues off the Cape Peninsula.
“Four of the guys in the training programme were involved on that day. The potential to dive professionally was always there. Now they finally have their opportunity.”
Once the first seven men have been trained it would be the turn of Hangberg’s women, he said.
“There is a misconception in the community that the training of our divers was granted after the protests. But this is not the case. This has been years in the making.”
He said the salvage operation and training of local people were “huge” for the Hangberg community.
“There are so many spin-offs. A local security company, PKC Protection, has been brought in, and down the line we will be looking at caterers from the community to come in and prepare food for everyone working on the project.”
Mr Guerrini said the GMC team was excited to be able to “go the extra mile” for the divers.
“We felt that more needed to be done than simply following through with the supply chain arrangement,” he said.
“Many marine companies prefer not to be labour-intensive, but we do. We like to be able to give work to members of the local community.”
GMC, he said, would be aiming to keep a long-standing relationship with the community.
“Whoever qualifies as divers will be kept on our books. We want to keep them employed as much as possible.”
Jack’s Dive Chest director Trevor Bailey said the seven men had started with a series of lectures last week and had taken to the water on Monday for practical training.
“It is easier for us to come through to Hout Bay than for the guys to pay the transport costs to Gordon’s Bay. It is also useful that they can get on-site training while the salvage operations are under way.”
He is impressed with their enthusiasm. “They have been incredible. The questions they’re asking me are things that more experienced divers would ask.”
Jack’s Dive Chest trains five divers from disadvantaged communities in the Western Cape each year.
“There’s been a lot of upheaval here in Hout Bay,” Mr Bailey said. “One of the things that struck us is that the people of Hangberg have never really been given an opportunity. When there are big projects, companies come in, complete the project and leave. The local community never benefits. Hopefully this project can change that.”