Harbour vendors evicted

Harbour vendors with their petition against eviction from the harbour shed where many of them have been cleaning and selling fish for over 20 years.
Vendors have handed in a petition to the harbour master to keep their trading spot at the harbour after the Department of Public Works (DPW) sent police to forcibly remove them from the premises on Friday May 17.
These vendors claim the Hout Bay harbour master gave them permission to use this building after it was set on fire during protest action on August 12 2018.
Before the fire, vendors paid the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) R12 per table and R65 per permit per day to sell fish and use this building commonly known as “the shed.”
Since the fire, DAFF made no other provisions for these vendors which resulted in them cleaning the burnt out shed and selling their fish from there.
According to vendor Wayne Vlotman, they were not aware that this wasn’t allowed.
“After the fire we initially sold our fish on our own tables under gazebos in front of the shed, but the harbour master Pumla Feni-Gela said we had to stop due to health and safety complaints. We then proceeded to clean up the shed, and even installed our own water pipe. Pumla knew we were doing this and said it was okay. She even said no one would remove us from the shed since we’ve always worked there.”

Mr Vlotman told the Sentinel News it came as a “great shock” to all the vendors when their work was disturbed by the DPW’s contractors who were accompanied by the police. 

“We received no notice of this eviction. If we knew we weren’t allowed to be in that space, we wouldn’t have gone through all the effort to clean the building. The harbour master manages the harbour, and for months we heard nothing from her.”

Vendor Stienie Mitchell said: “This is our place, I’ve been cleaning fish here since 1987. Pumla knows our needs. She knows we provide work and food for over 100 people. That’s 100 families in this community who have food on their tables.”

Another vendor, Wardah Samuels, recalls the incident of Friday May 17. “I was cleaning out my bait, when [DPW] officials turned up, telling me I’m not allowed to be there. They told me they were building new offices in the shed. According to the officials Pumla was supposed to give us a letter saying they’re moving us away from the shed. As the vendors and users of this shed, no one told us anything.”

Ms Samuels said the vendors contacted Ms Feni-Gela about the incident, and she instructed them to draw up a letter with their concerns.

Upon meeting Ms Feni-Gela on Monday morning, she refused to answer any of the Sentinel News’ questions, and said she won’t receive the petition or talk to the vendors unless our reporter stepped away. In their petition the vendors noted that “they are left in a predicament of uncertainty whether they will have a place to do business anymore”. The vendors also pleaded with the harbour master and DAFF stating: “Face to face contact and visibility with potential customers are essential to our businesses. Without it, we will lose many customers which will affect our staff and overall profitability. Many of us are Hout Bay natives, and we grew up doing this work. For many of us, this is the only work we know. We humbly ask DAFF to reconsider displacing us.”

When the Sentinel approached DAFF, a spokesperson from their fisheries branch, Alieya Haider, said their department is not the accountable party.

“DAFF is unable to respond since the DPW is the custodian of all harbour buildings in the Western Cape. At the moment, they are handling the matter but it is not within our jurisdiction to respond since DAFF’s coastal offices belong to DPW and we are merely their tenants.”

Thami Mchunu, DPW’s director of communication services, said they couldn’t provide sufficient comment on the issue since “the person working on this issue was on leave”. He continued to say DPW won’t be able to give the newspaper comment before going to press, and said “the newspaper can choose to run the story or not, but DPW will not comment on the issue until they’ve done a more in-depth inquest.”

Mr Mchunu refused to acknowledge that the vendors have been evicted, or that DPW offices will be built in the shed.