Bottom-up Accountability Initiatives to Claim Tenure Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa

Published: October 16, 2017
Bottom-up Accountability Initiatives to Claim Tenure Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa

Summary of the research

This section summarises an on-going action-research project run by Masifundise Development Trust (MDT), an NGO working to empower Small-Scale Fishers (SSF) in the Republic of South Africa (RSA). The research examines the ways in which in one community, Arniston in the Western Cape’s South Coast region of South Africa, access to tenure rights are impacted by various governance arrangements. The research project uses the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food sovereignty (hereinafter 'the tenure guidelines' or VGGT) as a tool to assess the impact of various governance frameworks on small scale fishing communities and uses the guidelines to empower communities to protect their tenure rights in the context of promoting their food sovereignty. This research unpacks the experiences of a small-scale fishing community who face different struggles as a result of governance structures impinging on their fishing rights and food sovereignty. This community is adjacent to a Marine Protected Area (MPA) and this case illustrates how MPAs impact small scale fishers’ tenure rights, and how communities resist and negotiate the challenges of exclusion. Furthermore, this research examines other governance frameworks such as the soon to be implemented Small-Scale Fishing (SSF) policy and how it complements the rights enshrined in the VGGT.

Preliminary findings suggest that the fishers have great insight into the ecosystem and, because it is their only source< of income, they have great respect for marine resources and the protection thereof. Their historical tenure arrange- ment, which was more collective than individual, ensured food sovereignty for the entire community and protected their human dignity as a people. Crime was almost non- existent and the general wellbeing of the community was marked by a harmonious life style where they were all equals. Their daily catch and fish was freely bartered with neigh- bouring farmers for vegetables and sometimes meat. According to members of this fishing community, Arniston used to have a rich tradition of making sour fig jams. These jams would be sold at community festivals. Today the farms are privately owned and the fishers need to get permission from the farmer, and a permit from Cape Nature Conservation (NCC), to be able to continue to make the jam. They feel that they are being squeezed out of their tradition and cul- ture. In the view of this fishing community, today players like Government and conservation agencies have impinged on their tenure, as well as their fishing rights and food sovereignty. They believe that, without the interference of new policies and legislature, Arniston would have been a thriving community today. Further to this, the research shows that the impacts of decisions made outside of the discussions with the fishing community of Arniston continue to jeopardize their access to food sovereignty and are in direct opposition to their basic human rights to food, security, freedom etc. They are extremely vulnerable, especially during the winter months as they can no longer access the vywes (fishing traps made with rocks) to harvest fish trapped in them. The women have also lost access rights and freedom to access intertidal resources, and therefore food security, during winter months.

They also fear that now that the 2016 elections are over, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) may not have the political will to implement the SSF policy. Over the past 3 years most members of this community feel that they have seen great injustices in the rights allocation system and fear that they might be excluded when the right under the SSF policy is implemented. They also feel that they have been done an injustice by their forefathers who allowed DENEL to erect a weapon testing plant so close to their community. Amidst contradicting views on the 6 | Bottom-up Accountability Initiatives to Claim Tenure Rights in Sub-Saharan Africaeffect of DENEL on their fish stock, most of the current generation strongly feel that the relationship between DENEL and the community must be revisited and, as will be read in sections four and five of this report, they have engaged in actions and negotiations with DAFF to demand some accountability in this respect. In a nutshell, most members of this community identified the following as a threat to their future as a traditional fishing village:

•     No access to food during winter months;
•     Less fish in the fishing grounds due to military testing;
•     No access to land and sea;
•     Women are denied access to food in the intertidal zone during low tide;
•     Community has become divided with an increase in intra-community conflicts;
•     Education is affected during times of military testing due to lot of noise and disturbance;
•     Fishers are criminalised for exercising their customary rights to land and sea;
•     Customs and traditions are compromised;
•     Fishers are unemployed during times of military testing because they are not allowed to engage in their Livelihood activities;
•     Environmental destruction because of military testing (fires, noise and air pollution, destruction of fishing grounds.

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South Africa Country Report (pdf, 3.42 MB)

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45 minutes