Coastal Links activists face water crisis and access to fishing grounds

Coastal Links activists face water crisis and access to fishing grounds

May 2020

Eastern Cape Inyanda affiliate, Coastal Links, reports that coastal communities in the province have the added lockdown burdens of access to adequate water supply, as well as access to local fishing grounds for food supply.

In early April three youths from the Mendwana community, Willowvale, were arrested in the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve on charges of trespassing, even though this reserve is on their land that was returned to them in terms of a land settlement agreement several years ago.

Small-scale fishers harvesting mussels along the Eastern Cape Wild Coast

They were also charged with fishing illegally. The youths were apparently fishing with handlines in order to feed their family.

In 2016 this community was one of seven communities whose customary rights to fish were recognised in a landmark judgement in the Mthatha High Court.  Their fishing rights were again confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2018 in the Gongqose judgement.

In an urgent letter to Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane in April, Inyanda Land Movement raised concerns about the arrest of the youth

File photo

Rangers of the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism arrested them, put them in back of a van to a police station about 80 km away, took them to court then brought them back with no regard by the police for the Covid-19 safety regulations,” the letter to the Premier stated.

The youths are expected to appear in court in court on the 4th May.   Despite their attorney trying by all means to communicate with the State Prosecutor prior to their appearance in court in order to get information about their case and to confirm if they must appear in court under the Covid 19 Regulations, the state did not communicate with the three young men. 

The three travelled the lengthy and expensive distance in a taxi to Willowvale and spent the entire day at the Court only to be told at the end of the day they must not waste the court’s time as the court was busy with more important cases.  They were told they will be called at a later date. 

File photo of some members of the Dwesa-Cwebe community

This lack of respect for their human dignity and their right to access to justice is apparently common place for Dwesa-Cwebe residents. The young men’s community is extremely isolated, with no livelihood opportunities other than those linked to natural resource use.  The community has also been without water for over two years and has pleaded with the Amathole District Muncipality to provide them with an adequate water supply but to date they remain without access to water other than a local spring some distance from their homes.

In the same letter to the Premier, Inyanda raised concerns about the arrest of ten leaders of Coastal Links also during the lockdown period.

The leaders were arrested after they apparently met to discuss the issue of a critical water shortage facing up to 600 households in three villages.

Inyanda decried their arrest, saying it disregarded the fact that the leaders were faced with a crisis of lack of access to water and which needed to be resolved.

The ten community leaders were arrested and taken to Centane police station, with apparently no respect for Covid-19 physical distancing precautions. They were then charged individually for convening an illegal gathering. Their charge sheet states that if they want to plead guilty, they can pay a fine of R10 000 each.

Coastal links has procured the assistance of a human rights lawyer to defend their case when they appear in court on the 13th of May 2020.

The communities of Nombanjana and Narxo have undertaken a range of advocacy activities to try and draw attention to their lack of water.  They have also linked up with the Eastern Cape Water Caucus to build solidarity with other rural communities across the province who are also struggling to get access to a safe, adequate water source.

Following extensive communication with the Amathole District Municipality, the communities’ needs were escalated to the Minister of Human Settlement in a letter sent by the South African Water Caucus.  The Minister has now placed the Amathole District Municipality Water Board under legal administration but it is not clear how the communities that are reliant on this District Municipality for water will obtain water during this crisis when access to water is so key to their health.


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