Climate change and commercial developments in Durban harbour threaten fishermen’s livelihoods

By Shanice Gomes

Shanice Gomes is a Project Officer at the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA).

This creative story was written after a Climate Change Reporting Skills workshop organised by the African Climate Reality Project and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism. Excerpts of Shanice’s article were published in the Southlands Sun on Tuesday 16 May 2017, under the title “Desalination plan set to snag subsistence anglers”. Read the article here.

Fishing spots along Durban’s coastline have been seized from the KwaZulu-Natal Subsistence Fisher Forum (KZNSFF), a forum with more than twelve thousand registered fisher folk from around Durban. With South Africa’s unemployment statistics currently peaking at 26.5 percent; unemployed fisher folk eke out a livelihood from the ocean as this progressively becomes the only source of income existing for many deprived families.

The KZNSFF have had numerous challenges regarding Transnet’s developments and expansion of the port, which ultimately squeezed the fisher folk out the port. To date five fisher folk who were members of the KZNSFF have lost their lives while fishing on the North Pier due to poorly maintained infrastructure. In addition after the 9/11 attacks, the United States introduced the international Security Code which placed stringent access controls on areas of national importance; such as ports. In 2003, the South African government’s application of this international legislation led to subsistence fisher folk being denied access to the Durban harbour.

In the Port of Durban, popular fishing spots have habitually been earmarked for the use of the wealthier, mostly white recreational fishermen. Fishing is known by many young and old across all races of people and this traditional practice hangs by a thread as Transnets Parastatal continues to enforce laws and regulations ensuring the port is completely privatised.

Amongst these, the eThekwini Municipality together with a group of Japanese funders are proposing to install a desalination Demonstration Plant to be situated in the Bluff, West of the Durban harbour. Again we see Transnet’s furtive use of power to promote economic growth by granting the eThekwini permission to utilise their internal road which leads to the desalination plant. South Africa is experiencing a severe drought like many countries around the world; as a result the desalination method has been selected to satisfy the collective thirst, consequently destroying the environment. The process of desalination uses more fossil fuels than sourcing comparable quantities of clean drinking water.

The desalination procedure entails two pipelines one to be utilised to intake sea water and the other to discard off waste back into the sea. The intake pipeline causes penetrating sound waves that cause marine life to flee from that vicinity as it vacuums up phytoplankton, fish larvae, fish eggs and other micro organisms which play an intricate role in the food chain. Once this water is converted, the twice as much salty sludge is produced and disposed through the sea out fall. This salty sludge formally know as brine possesses the potential to affect coastal water quality, interrupting the water cycle, disrupting ocean biodiversity and will be responsible for the disappearance of many fish species.

Climate change can be understood as this human habit of trying to resolve one issue by creating many rippling impacts which alter life systems that we depend on for our survival.

Combined with the impact of overutilisation by illegal foreign fishing trawlers and internationally dwindling fish stocks due to climate change and pollution; the livelihoods of approximately twelve thousand families across Durban are at risk.

The KZNSFF have been working with the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) to ensure that the Durban Port is recognised as a resource that belongs to all people not just for commercial interests only. Furthermore, the KZNSFF are uniting and prepared to fight for their rights and put an end to the proposed desalination plant. SDCEA continues to advocate and support the struggle of the subsistence fishers to obtain a court ruling that would officially recognize fisher folk as ‘Port Users’ as well.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the African Climate Reality Project.