That yesterday’s rally for unity in Hout Bay fell on both the seventh anniversary of the 2010 Hangberg riots and the United Nations International Day of Peace was lost on no one.
As it so happened, it was also exactly a week since violent clashes between and Hangberg protesting for changes to fishing allocations and housing and the police threatened to destabilise Hout Bay.
While a crowd of 200 people might not seem significant elsewhere, within the context of Hout Bay, so often described as a “microcosm of South Africa” for the challenges arising from racial divisions, the moment was nothing short of colossal.
The sight of residents of Imizamo Yethu and the Valley streaming down Harbour Road towards the rally gathering point below Atlantic Skipper Road contrasted starkly with the scenes of last week, when tear gas, rubber bullets, flares and petrol bombs were the order of the day.
As cooldrinks and water were distributed among the crowd and music blared from the sound system, tourists atop Cape Town’s famous sightseeing buses could be forgiven for thinking some sort of rock concert was in the offing.
In the past week, scores of people from around Hout Bay took to social media to express their willingness to stand with the people of Hangberg.
Failures on the part of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), Senzeni Zokwana, to meet directly with the Hangberg community have angered many in Hout Bay, as on two occasions promises to this effect were reneged on.
While Mr Zokwana did meet with a select number of fishers on Sunday September 17 and again on Monday September 18 at his parliamentary offices, it was understood that he would address all residents in Hangberg on Sunday.
However, rather than engaging in further protest, a group of Hangberg representatives took it upon themselves to plot another course of action; one that would harness the words being expressed on social media and stage an event of unity in the hopes that the issues facing the Hangberg community would be taken up by Hout Bay as a whole.
When one of these representatives, Lee Smith, took the podium, he acknowledged that Hout Bay had “serious problems”, but said the village could no longer deal with them as separate areas.
“I have never seen so many clear-cut lines between people as I have in Hout Bay, but today those lines have disappeared,” he told the rally.
“We want to show you that the people of Hangberg will protect you until our last breath. You are part of our community, and you can be assured that by your attendance today, we will repay you.”
A peace torch, presented to Archbishop Desmond Tutu by the Dalai Lama and donated to the rally, was stoked and circulated among the crowd, with people from all Hout Bay’s communities taking the opportunity to pose for photographs with the symbol.
A memorandum of demands over fishing rights and housing was also handed over to Conway Everson, a representative of Community Safety MEC Dan Plato.
“It is good to notice the diversity of this crowd. The message will prevail that peace will prevail,” he said.
He informed the crowd that the MEC had brokered a public meeting on October 9, to be chaired by the shadow mayor, Suzette Little.
Ward councillor Roberto Quintas also thanked the gathered residents for showing their commitment to “one Hout Bay with one future”.
Another community representative, Donovan van der Heyden, implored the audience to understand that Hangberg’s traditional fishing rights had been sacrificed as DAFF and corporate companies sought to move in on their traditional fishing area.
Earlier in the week, Mr Smith told the Sentinel the community was livid when they heard the minister would not be meeting them.
“However, the initial anger that Hangberg residents felt was curbed because their children are currently writing exams. This minister has made huge promises to the community, but they are not being honoured,” he said.
“The fact is it is not only the fishers on the boats who are being affected, but people in the fishing industry as a whole. Everyone is affected.”
During the riots, Stonehill Originals, a clothing and interiors specialist based in the harbour, was looted, necessitating that it close its doors for the time being.
However, owner Debbie Braunlich remains committed to supporting the Hangberg community.
“The Hangberg community has felt marginalised for years, and they have been unfairly treated. I am fully behind what they are asking for,” she said.
“It is unfortunate that we were caught in the crossfire, but irrespective of what happened we will support the community in their demands.”
Craig Dunlop, who runs the NGO Workspace in the harbour, added his voice to the unity call.
“Issues of unfair housing policies, access to land, economic discrimination and unfair fishing quota allocation have been in the spotlight for over a decade. Years of broken promises have caused the frustration to boil over and it’s impact the greater community of Hout Bay,” Mr Dunlop said.
“We need to stand in solidarity and show that when anybody messes with Hout Bay, they mess with all of us.”
A memorandum listing fishers’ demands was handed over to the Fisheries branch on Monday September 11.
These were discussed during this week’s meeting with the minister at his Cape Town offices.
Among the issues discussed were the slow progress with respect to transformation in the fisheries sector; a lack of communication between the department and affected fishing communities; and an update on the small scale fishers’ allocation and demarcation in the near shore, offshore and small scale fisheries.
“The meeting agreed on peaceful and constructive dialogue and further agreed to establish working committees to address all issues raised on behalf of fishing communities.
“The meeting clarified issues that needed urgent attention, and issues that needed regular interaction between the department and the fishing community leaders,” the department’s Bomikazi Molapo said.
Further discussions were to be held over the the recommendation to cut Total Allowable Catch (TAC) /Total Allowable Effort (TAE) of the West Coast Rock Lobster; addressing the allocation of fish for small scale fisheries in the interim prior to 2020 Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP); and a proposal to suspend allocations on West Coast Rock Lobster and abalone for current FRAP period.
“The meeting also agreed that investigations of cases wherein communities have been robbed of their fishing rights by big companies.
“The minister has committed to publish a notification calling for nominations for the establishment of the Fisheries Transformation Council by end September. The FTC will look comprehensively at transformation issues to ensure meaningful participation by all in our society,” he said.