Small-Scale Fishers Call For Meaningful Public Participation Processes In Their Communities

After numerous court actions to halt Shell’s seismic surveys off the Wild Coast Eastern Cape (in search of offshore oil and gas), on 24 May 2022, small-scale fishers from the region called on local traditional leaders to do better at fulfilling their responsibilities as custodians of communal land extending to the ocean, in ways that best serve the interests of local communities in the affected areas. This development comes after traditional leaders who seemed to ignore the livelihoods of many people that rely on the ocean failed to consult communities about Shell’s proposed seismic surveys and how they could negatively impact their lives. 

All affected communities are entitled to be engaged in participatory decision-making through meaningful public consultation processes about any proposed economic developments in their areas. However, instead of bringing the decision-making platforms to the people, traditional leaders supported the proposed exploration ventures of the multinational oil and gas company (Shell), even though its operations will compromise the primary source of income for local fishers. Shell’s intentions are not ideal in a country with chronically high unemployment and poverty rates. Additionally, since oil and gas are greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels, their exploration and exploitation will also exacerbate climate change.

Small-scale fisher and member of Coastal Links Port St Johns Nandipha Nogwina says, “Traditional leaders should ensure that communities have a say about proposed offshore oil and gas developments. Their say is significant for us as coastal communities because we completely depend on the oceans to make a living. Our community leaders and the government only make our lives harder when they undermine our right to be included in decisions taken about their environment. Also, proposed oil and gas exploration activities will not drive the country to its net-zero emissions goal to curb climate change and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celcius by 2030. These reasons force the youth to stand up and fight for the protection of our oceans while advocating against these socio-economic injustices.”

Nandipha Nogwina Conducting Beach Clean Up In Her Community

Civil society needs a decisive and inclusive plan for the just transition that must include meaningful public participation in the decision-making processes of communities affected by these various proposed developments. The Constitution (South Africa’s highest law) provides for meaningful public consultation, placing a constitutional duty on the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces, and provincial legislatures to facilitate public participation when executing their legislative processes. 

Another small-scale fisher from Port St Johns, Sifiso Ntsunguzi said “As young small-scale fishers, we are against offshore oil and gas because the ocean is too important to us. Even though unemployment rates are skyrocketing, we can still provide for our families by selling fish to local markets and tourists. But, with more support for the initiatives we want, we could alleviate poverty even further. For example, the development of aquaculture facilities would help the majority of the youth in our community.” 

Sifiso Ntsunguzi (left) and Ezile Jiba (right) advocate for fishing rights and ocean protection

“We create job opportunities by fishing and harvesting mussels, and we sell what we catch to local markets to generate an income and provide for our families. We need the government to start sustainable projects that will benefit coastal communities and lead the country to a sustainable future,” adds Ezile Jiba, a fisher in Port St Johns.

Written By: Lisa Makaula and Natasha Adonis

The Green Connection Legacy Programme equips the Green Connectors with advocacy skills to fight against environmental and socio-economic injustices through workshops and mentoring.

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