Uproar over fencing

The new fencing and gates at the Hout Bay Harbour have not been welcomed by locals.

Fencing being erected around the Hout Bay Harbour seems to be a sight nobody wants to see.

A recent video doing the rounds, which the Sentinel News has in its possession, shows how contractors visiting the harbour to measure out areas for fencing, were confronted by hostile residents, who threatened the workers.

The workers quickly gathered their tools, ran towards their vehicles and sped off, with locals screaming: “Come back and we will kill you and burn out your car.”

Community Liason Officer, Angelo Joseph, referred to the introduction of fencing as “overkill” which will end up affecting many of the people around the area.

“That will make the harbour really like an Alcatraz. The poorest of the poor will be affected by that one,” he said.

Seal feeders, Cape minstrels, buskers and even the single mother collecting fish heads from the boat for supper will all be affected, said Mr Joseph, who works at the harbour every day.

Previously, he also questioned the surrounding wall, which sparked anger and aggression from locals.

“We were told that because millions was being spent on infrastructure inside the harbour, they need to protect these upgrades,” he noted.

“Most of the community welcomes the upgrade of the harbour, but these stainless steel structures and gates is going to cause major problems here.”

He explained that with the new fencing and gates, certain parts of the harbour would be commercialised, preventing locals from making a living on the harbour.

“We support the upgrades, but the fencing and gates will keep our people out of the economy. It does also interfere with our rights of movement, as we have the right to have access to any state owned structure without being boxed in,” Mr Joseph said.

Antonio Combrinck from Hout Bay, a busker who sells hats at the harbour, said the introduction of fencing and gates was “scary”.

He said with the addition of one gate on the Mariner’s Wharf side, already there are tensions boiling over.

“People are already starting to ask questions and wondering where this is heading. If they are planning to close the harbour, who will have access to it and who won’t? These are the things we need to know, because you cannot just start closing things which have open for years, this is a harbour for all of us,” Mr Combrinck said.

He moved to Cape Town nearly 12 years ago, he said, and in that time he had experienced the harbour as being vibrant and alive, and open to all.

“Whether you are working on the boats or coming down to grab a fish from the Captain, this is where it goes down and if it’s closed, what next?” Mr Combrinck asked.

Representing a group of concerned fisherman is John Reed, who confirmed that no meetings nor public participation had been held to discuss the fencing in of the harbour.

“The department seems to consult with community leaders who have never reported back to the community, whilst they have tenders in the harbour,” he said.

He added that fisherman were speculating that the erection of fencing and gates was part of a plan to “privatise” the harbour and keep locals out.

“The fact that government refuses to engage in a public participation process with the Hout Bay community and the harbour-users shows that government has no concern for these key stakeholders,” Mr Reed said.

“When the wall was first built, it was immediately vandalised. Thousands of rands of public money have already been wasted because of the lack of consultation and buy in from the local community.”

A prominent community leader who didn’t want to be identified in this report, said the harbour upgrade had been discussed at a meeting in February 2019.

He confirmed that the Department of Public Works had made presentations about the upgrade to the community, with the last meeting between stakeholders, leaders from various coastlines and locals having been held in February 2019.

“There were concerned residents and youth leaders in that very meetings, but they did not dispute the rebuilding of the harbour, but rather asked how will the community benefit,” he said.

The boundary wall sparked major concerns from locals and was the first safety measure introduced by the department, who claimed vandalism and theft had created the need for a wall to be erected.

Department of Public Works and Infrastructure spokesperson, Lunga Mahlangu, said they were aware of the latest incident involving the contractors who were sent packing. “The department is dealing with the matter accordingly,” he said.

The department brushed aside the idea of the harbour being turned into “Alcatraz”.

New gates are ready to be erected by the contractor at the harbour.

Mr Mahlangu explained that the construction of gates and fencing had always formed part of the revitalisation programme for the harbour for the purpose of controlling vehicles and prevent any damage to marine infrastructure or the quay.

“The department is upgrading the harbour to improve the operational efficiency of the harbour, which has had local benefication through job creation and SMME empowerment. The upgrades are meant to boost the operations in the harbour and give local users a better experience with working infrastructure at a subsidised rate through the current harbour fees,” Mr Mahlangu said.

The department also placed the spotlight on “illegal trade” at the harbour and said the gates would further assist them with curbing illicit activities on the harbour.

Mr Mahlangu added that in most instances, the harbour had become an “easy target” for locals to vent their frustrations around matters such as housing and service deliver, among others.

“This is unfortunate, as many livelihoods depend on the operations of the harbour. Government cannot continue to pay for vandalised infrastructure as this is going to have a negative impact on the harbour when it remains damaged,” he said.

“The department is looking at the bigger picture to stimulate local economic development and vandalism is not the solution to the matter.”