Sinking feeling at Hout Bay Harbour

Tenants say the DPWI’s failure to grant them long-term leases has hobbled progress at the harbour.

Hout Bay Harbour is in a sad state, but it could become a tourism hot spot if national government handed it over to the City to manage, says ward councillor Roberto Quintas.

The once-flourishing fishing harbour is now marred by buildings stripped bare of anything that can be pilfered for quick cash, sunken boats and floating rubbish, says Mr Quintas who believes that the spin-offs of the harbour being de-proclaimed as a fishing harbour and falling under the City’s control would be job creation, investment and tourism.

“Not everyone in Hangberg wants to be a fisher. Imagine a boutique hotel, a jetty with a sushi bar, an oyster bar, aquaculture fish farming of crayfish and abalone, regular market traders, like in Europe, keeping the authenticity of a small harbour.”

In 2019, he spoke of reimagining the harbour and transforming it into a place where the people of Hangberg could find affordable housing, jobs, training and business opportunities. This motion to “re-imagine the Hout Bay Harbour” was submitted and accepted by sub-council (“Reimagining Hout Bay Harbour,” Sentinel News, August 30, 2019).

The City was willing to work with the national Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) and private shareholders to “create a new landmark destination for Cape Town”, he said.

However, the “ongoing elephant in the room” was the lack of engagement from the department and “uncertainty regarding their plans for the harbour”.

DPWI spokesman Thami Mchunu said the municipality had no mandate to manage the harbour. He did not respond to questions about the department’s budget and future plans for the harbour.

Justin Strong, the CEO of the Snoekies restaurant chain, which has an outlet at the harbour, said conditions there had declined over the past 10 years and after the Oceana fishmeal factory had ended its lease in March 2021, the 13 000m² building had been gutted by vandals within six to eight weeks (“Hout Bay Harbour: A vandal’s paradise,“ Sentinel, May 6, 2022).

Oceana did not respond to questions, but Mr Quintas said most of the management had been retrenched and the company had needed to consolidate operations in Saldanha.

Mr Strong said Snoekies Hout Bay, which employs about 60 people, was one of 34 tenants in the harbour with its lease dating back to 1953, although it had been there since 1949. They had been promised a long-term lease on the present annual one for over six years, but nothing had come of that, he said.

About 30 of the tenants were on month-to-month leases, which hurt business and led to job losses, he said adding that all leases would soon be made monthly.

Shaun Bloch, the marketing director for Mariner’s Wharf, another tenant, said it had been frustrating and costly dealing with failing harbour infrastructures, lawlessness and finalising leases.

The busy property at the entrance to the harbour opened in 1984 and employs more than 125 people, mostly from Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu and many casuals during the summer and busy periods.

Pescaluna, a factory that processes fish for the local and export market has a two-fold challenge of dealing with the DPWI as its landlord and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) for its fishing. Spokeswoman Jane Fernandes said their landlord did no maintenance on the buildings, which were mostly dilapidated, and last year Pescaluna had spent R1 million on roofing and drainage.

Ms Fernandes said they employ 143 local people and 92 crew for the company’s four boats.

Mr Strong said the harbour could be a money-spinner and jobs generator but it was held back by the DPWI not signing long-term leases with tenants.

“Pre-Covid we informed them that we’re ready to invest and create 80 permanent new employment opportunities as well as invest on improvements to our properties. They did not respond, and we continue to wait for our long-term lease.”

In June last year, Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille announced plans for the development of Hout Bay Harbour as part of an upgrade programme for 13 proclaimed fishing harbours in the Western Cape. The programme was expected to be fully completed by March 2023, but six months later, nothing has been done.

Deputy mayor Eddie Andrews said the City remained committed to working with the DFFE and the DPWI, which were responsible for ensuring that Cape Town’s harbours full exploited social and economic opportunities.

All that remains of the Oceana fishmeal factory, which was gutted by vandals, after the company quit the harbour.
Ward councillor Roberto Quintas says the harbour could become a tourism hot spot if it were placed under the City’s management.