The tide turns to mining on the Olifants River

“If communities dont take possession of their waters and their pure atmosphere they deteriorate. So how can authorities alienate communities from the water of which they’re alleged to be the custodians of?” Andre Cloete, a fisherman who was born in Papendorp.

The Olifants River mouth enters the Atlantic Ocean roughly 250km north of Cape City, because the crow flies. On the mouth, the emerald waters are flanked by the cliffs of De Punt farm on the northern financial institution, whereas on the southern financial institution is the biggest floodplain salt marsh in South Africa.

The estuary is ranked third within the nation by way of conservation significance, and is a essential supply of meals and livelihoods for a lot of dwelling in Papendorp and Ebenhaeser, two communities on the southern banks of the river.

On the morning of 21 November, the river was quiet. It was a Sunday and the fishers who had labored the night time earlier than had gone residence with their catches. Cormorants have been the one fishers that morning, swimming near the river mouth and periodically catching fish.

Rhiaan Coetzee addresses the fishers at a gathering held at Antie Saartjie’s residence in Ebenhaeser.


“[The river is about] greater than fishing,” mentioned Rhiaan Coetzee, a fisherman who was born in Ebenhaeser. “It’s quiet. I can go there when I’m confused. You solely hear the birds and the water. Even when there are not any fish, there’s that relationship with God and nature.”

Coetzee’s relationship with the river goes again to when he was a toddler. “Once I was eight years outdated, I used to play on the river, then after I was 10, my father let me go together with him on the boat. Once I was 12, I needed to begin rowing.” Coetzee is now 32 and has been fishing on the river for 20 years.

However that morning, the peaceable emotions related to the river have been tainted with nervousness.

Night falls in Papendorp with the Olifants River mouth within the background.


The Division of Mineral Sources and Vitality has granted Australian mining firm Mineral Sands Sources the correct to prospect for heavy minerals on the northern financial institution of the river. And Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Surroundings Barbara Creecy has dismissed appeals to cease the prospecting.

Creecy’s “current choice to permit prospecting on coastal land on the northern banks of the Olifants estuary is obscure”, says Merle Sowman, a professor within the atmosphere and geographical research division on the College of Cape City (UCT). The prospecting is to happen on the farm the rest of Level #267 and Lot 615 Olifants River Settlement. “This is among the most undeveloped estuaries in South Africa and has been recognized as essential for conservation.”

Sowman says the small-scale fishers who dwell alongside the river could discover their supply of meals and livelihoods threatened.

From agriculture to fishing

The fishers of the Olifants River are descendents of the indigenous individuals who settled within the space now generally known as Lutzville within the seventeenth century. They have been dispossessed of their land in 1925 and moved to Papendorp on the river mouth and Ebenhaeser about 15km upstream.

Their forebears made a dwelling via cattle, agriculture and fishing. However the poor high quality of the land close to the river mouth to which they have been relocated compelled them to change primarily to fishing.

Saartjie Afrika, recognized to all as Antie Saartjie, is 81 years outdated and has lived in Ebenhaeser all her life. Her grandparents have been amongst these dispossessed of their land and by the point she was a younger woman within the Forties, her father had already switched to fishing.

Anti Saartje and her brother Dawid Don within the space they met her father when he returned from fishing journeys once they have been younger.


“I can inform you that I used to be raised from the river water. I acquired married in Ebenhaeser. Once I had youngsters, my husband was additionally a fisherman. My youngsters have been educated via the dwelling we created from the river,” she mentioned.

The fishers catch predominantly tougher, often known as mullet. Coetzee calls it the staple meals of the Olifants River fishing communities.

When plentiful, fishers promote their catches within the surrounding villages and even so far as Lambert’s Bay, 50km away. When the fish are scarce, fishers typically nonetheless catch sufficient to cook dinner for his or her households.

An outdated fishing license that was owned by Anti Saartjie’s brother.


For the impoverished in these communities, having the ability to fish on the river is essential to their meals safety. Tougher are caught in row boats utilizing gill nets. The river fishers don’t need to spend cash on petrol or bait.

“It’s essential know the climate, the wind and the tide. In case you have that information, you’ll be able to take your boat on to the river and also you’ll know the place to drop your internet to get some fish,” mentioned Antie Saartjie.

Protected by the neighborhood

The fishers perceive the worth of the river of their lives and wish it protected. Nevertheless, they objected to the primary plan to make it a marine protected space because it didn’t take them under consideration – the plan tried to limit fishing within the first 16km of the river.

Coetzee, who was very younger on the time, speaks of that try as “the primary time they tried to shut the river”. He can bear in mind his father sitting him down and telling him that when he grew up, he must defend the river as outsiders would try to eliminate the fishers.

“I really feel strongly that the river must be protected,” echoed Antie Saartjie, “however on the similar time there must be entry for our individuals to work for a dwelling. [Our people] should defend it. There should be legal guidelines that stop individuals from coming and damaging it.”

Assisted by the Authorized Sources Centre and researchers from UCT, they put ahead a proposal for a community-managed marine protected space, which was adopted by all stakeholders. Whereas it’s taking longer than the communities had hoped, plans pushed by governmental organisation Cape Nature are underneath option to declare the mouth of the river a marine protected space that might be co-managed by the fishing communities and the Ebenhaeser Communal Property Affiliation, which oversees the newly restituted land.

“When the Marine Protected Space get’s finalised, there might be oversight and we can regulate [activities on the river],” says Aletta Goliath.

Papendorp resident Aletta Goliath mentioned they’ve an inflow of holidaymakers to the river mouth yearly.

However “when the marine protected space will get finalised, there might be oversight and we can regulate” actions on the river, mentioned Goliath.

Residents are anxious for this to occur as tougher are delicate to those disturbances throughout the festive season, from the crowds and the motorised boats piloted by guests to the farms on the northern financial institution. Goliath mentioned there’s a stark drop of their catches presently.

Realizing this, the fishing communities are involved that the equipment used to prospect on the northern banks could deter the tougher from getting into the river mouth, jeopardising their livelihoods and threatening their meals safety.

Creecy’s choice to permit prospecting doesn’t acknowledge the method underneath option to have the river mouth space declared a community-managed marine protected space.

The larger image

“A significant drawback with the present decision-making is that the cumulative impacts of all these prospecting and mining actions are usually not assessed,” says Sowman. Prospecting functions are submitted and assessed on an ad-hoc foundation and whereas the influence of 1 explicit operation could also be minimal, mixed with different prospecting and mining actions in and across the space it might be important.

Along with Mineral Sands Sources’ prospecting actions on the northern financial institution, there are functions for prospecting on the newly restituted southern banks. And the mineral sources division has authorised offshore prospecting in 5 concessions, considered one of which is in entrance of the Olifants River mouth.

Sowman says there’s a want for a coastal plan that “identifies environmental attributes and delicate areas that have to be protected, and areas the place mining might be possible”. Such a plan would defend areas just like the Olifants River from mining due to their conservation significance. However as a result of there isn’t one, firms have been making use of for mining and prospecting rights all alongside the West Coast, from Elands Bay into the Northern Cape province.

The Olifants River seen from the Level Farm.


“If you happen to permit prospecting and it yields optimistic outcomes, the following step is to use for a mining proper. The problem right here is that by permitting prospecting, the federal government is giving a sign to the applicant that there’s in-principle assist for mining in that space.”

Ought to mining go forward, “it might result in irreversible environmental harm to essential sources” akin to essential biodiversity areas, marine habitats and sources, heritage, agricultural lands and palaeontological sources, she says.

One other concern is that mining operations result in a build-up of sand within the river mouth, because the communities suspect has occurred on seashores north of the mouth. Goliath mentioned they’re additionally anxious about their air high quality ought to mining go forward on the northern financial institution, as a predominant northwesterly wind blows throughout the river to Papendorp and Ebenhaeser. And that the restriction of entry to land the place mining operations are underneath approach will intrude with how the communities are in a position to make use of their newly restituted land.

Sowman says it might “foreclose future choices for longer-term sustainable livelihoods and jobs for the individuals of this space.”

Endangered tradition

That morning, at 6am, earlier than heading out to the river, Coetzee visited his neighbour, Chris Don. Don had simply returned from fishing on the river the night time earlier than. He had caught about 200 tougher. An environment of pleasure hung within the air. Coetzee mentioned there had not been fish for a couple of days, however that the wind had turned from northwesterly to southwesterly they usually anticipated to see tougher within the river quickly.

Rhiaan Coetzee and Wilbur Cloete drink tea, as Chris Don sees to the fish he caught the night time earlier than.


In Don’s yard, the fish have been laid out on mesh baggage whereas two males manned a fireplace, braaing them. Cats sat close by ready for scraps or small fish to be tossed their approach. Don was busy in his shed, salting fish with the salt he had collected from one of many pans subsequent to the river. Later, he would hold them within the solar to make salted and dried bokkom.

On the best way from Don’s residence to Papendorp, Coetzee let individuals know that Don had caught tougher the night time earlier than. Some purchased fish as a result of they get pleasure from them, others as a result of at R1 or R2 every it’s their most inexpensive supply of protein.

Written and photographed by Barry Christianson

  • This text was first revealed by New Body.

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