Rural villagers living on the coast in the Eastern Cape have told Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs that some of the laws governing the use of the sea are too restrictive and deny them an opportunity to benefit commercially from the ocean and sea shore.

They said the laws restricted them from mining sand, limiting fishing licences and the requirement to build houses further from the sea than residents in urban areas, were denying them the right to benefit from the sea to earn a living.

These concerns were among submissions made to the Portfolio Committee during public hearings on the draft Marine Spatial Planning Bill, which seeks to introduce regulations on the sustainable use of the ocean economy. Currently the activities that take place in the ocean and on the coast are managed by various state departments and agencies through a variety of different legislation.

Mr Sicingele Dulashe said villagers like him living next to the coast are not benefiting from the ocean because of restrictive laws. “We are living right next to the sea, but we are suffering because of some of the laws are too restrictive. Something must be done so that we can benefit from the ocean space,” he said.

Speaker of Mbashe Local Municipality, Ms Babalwa Majavu, shared the public’s concern about people living along the coast being able to use its resources. She added that the Marine and Spatial Planning Bill will help open many opportunities.

Inkosi Phathisile Fudumele said: “The oceans are in our land, yet the laws restrict us from even fetching sand to build our houses. How can the laws help us benefit from sand mining in these protected areas,” he asked the Portfolio Committee.

“The restrictions on the people are oppressive. They don’t benefit people living next to the sea. We need to be allowed to fish for business, not just for subsistence.” [This is the case under current licensing.]

The communities also told the Committee about their interest in using more than just the fish and plants of the ocean. “We need to be aware about minerals and other business opportunities. How can we benefit from the sea, apart from just fishing?” said Inkosi Fudumele.

Other members of the public said the Bill was too technical and was more about the workings of the departments, rather than the people.

Amid all the concerns and complaints about laws that disadvantaged people living on the coast, the community of Idutywa and surrounding areas under Mbashe Local Municipalities welcomed the Bill for its intention to introduce regulations on the management of the coast and the ocean space.

Committee Chairperson Mr Philemon Mapulane assured the public that the Bill will not repeal any existing laws, but “will ensure cooperative governance on the management of the ocean space”.

“It is also not true that this public hearing is just a formality and that the Bill will be pushed through irrespective of the inputs from the communities. The contributions from communities are a very important part of the law-making process. This public consultation is a very important and necessary exercise,” he said.

The Committee will conclude public consultations in the Eastern Cape this week, and the next provinces to be visited are Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

4 August 2017
Sakhile Mokoena