Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Politics of Ignorance

During yesterday's (15 October) first day of parliamentary hearings on the proposed Amendments to the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998, it became apparent that the politics of ignorance was the name of the game. 

There is little doubt that fishing communities and large swathes of fishermen are seriously angry with what is happening in the fishing industry. This is clear from the number of fisher lobby groups and NGO's that have come into being over the past few years. It is also clear from just talking to fishers at the slipways and harbours that they are not happy with the current state of play. 

But, the politics of ignorance which has largely been mastered by the fisheries department's temporary and acting senior managers, COSATU and certain politicians seeks to try and punt that the present catastrophic state of the fisheries sectors, including coastal poverty and unemployment is the fault of the fishing quota allocations process and previous (ie 2001 and 2005) fishing policies. Of course, nothing is said that the current suite of 2013 policies are near replicas of the 2005 policies! 

Let me be the first to say that of course I will hold the view that the 2005 fishing policies and quota allocation processes were successful given my role in government at the time. And of course my subjective view can be justifiably ignored. But then lets consider some facts which of course the likes of COSATU cannot rebut (and that is why Tony Ehrenreich appeared at the Portfolio Committee yesterday morning and made a tirade of accusations and then promptly ran away before the Q & A period. Of course, he epitomizes what is a coward). Lets not deny that fishing quota allocations, had and will continue to result in unhappy and unsuccessful applicants and fishermen but there was never the populist and dishonest promise that this policy or that law will bring nirvana which is the current theme. 

The Legal Resources Centre even went so far as to claim that the proposed amendment bill will redress the impacts of the 1913 Land Act!! The LRC thought that this propaganda was useful because it was 100 years ago that the 1913 Land Act was passed into law. And I thought we were dealing with the oceans. Of course, if we have any respect for history, it was the Group Areas laws of the 1960's that dispossessed many small-scale fishers of direct access to their fishing grounds by removing them from Simonstown, Kalk Bay and other fishing villages. But the politics of ignorance is not interested in fact. Ignorance is bliss so you make the crap up as you go along and depending on who will give you the loudest cheer! 

Essentially, if COSATU (and remember Ehrenreich is also the leader of the ANC in the City of Cape Town) and co would have their way, they would hand over fishing quotas held by large companies to "small-scale" fishers. This of course attracted a good cheer from the bussed in crowd in Parliament. But this populist and illegal rant not only further confirms the policy confusion that has defined this government (on the other hand you have the National Development Plan saying the exact opposite), it is akin to saying to a small-scale gold miner, "here is a spade, now start digging a 5 km deep gold mine." And then of course the likes of COSATU will claim "transformation" has been achieved. Great. That is why South Africa is the most unequal society globally with 40% unemployment levels. 

But, if we are to be terribly honest here, fishing quotas are now used as a form of social grant; part of the state's massive welfare system of 18 million grant recipients. As unemployment continues to grow (because government policy is increasingly schizophrenic and predatory so there is less and less investment in the fishing sector by large enterprises) and poverty levels deepen in coastal communities, so the desperation to access fish stocks grows - a desperate last resort. Any surprise that lobster is 97% overfished with abalone and line fish all similarly overfished?

But, we digress. Back to the facts about quota allocation processes gone by. 

Fact 1: The allocation of fishing rights in 2001 (for 4 years) and 2005 (for periods of between 8 and 15 years) resulted in unprecedented levels of stability in fishing communities and the fisheries economy.  Scan the newspapers for that period or the Hansard records for portfolio committee  meetings and the chaos and anger that is present today were not present then. Economically, employers were employing and investing in new technologies and vessels because fishing rights were secure, policy was clear and fish stocks were sustainably managed. And socially, the current levels of intra-community conflict were non-existent. Today, we have the communities of Ebenezer and Doringbaai at each other's throats while previously they harvested lobsters and snoek together. There is serious conflict between communities in Elandsbaai, Mamre and Atlantis as they compete to access their 80 lobsters per month. Conflict levels in Hawston have increased to violent confrontations between community members. This was last seen in the 1990's. 

Fact 2: The allocation of fishing rights in 2005 gave 2200 small-scale fishers exclusive access to an array of nearshore fish stocks such as line fishes, lobsters, hake, snoek, oysters and mussels. The Fisheries Department will now have us believe that the proposed MLRA amendment will "for the first time grant fishing rights to small-scale commercial fishers"! So who are these 2200 small-scale fishers who hold 8 and 10 year long fishing rights? They dont exist for the purpose of populist expediency. 

Fact 3: The allocation process resulted in substantive transformation of each of the 22 commercial fishing sectors where more than 60% of fishing quotas were allocated to either black controlled entitled or black individuals. Of course, these figures are regularly denied by those who dont like the facts. But then what are their figures and on what are these alternative figures based? Despite more than 8 years having passed since the 2005 quota allocation process, neither COSATU nor any other denialist has come up with the "real" figure of transformation. Suffice-it-to-say, the National Development Plan and various Portfolio Committees have agreed that the South African fishing industry has been "transformed". Again, consider the recorded pronouncements of the portfolio committees on the successes of these rights allocation processes. 

Fact 4: Each of the 2 allocation processes were subjected to judicial scrutiny with the Constitutional Court even pronouncing on the issue of "transformation" and neither were found to be wanting. I wonder how many members of the Portfolio Committee (or for that matter Ehrenreich) has read the Constitutional Court's 2004 decision in Bato Star and the Court's pronouncements on transformation, legality and fairness and the need to achieve a careful balance between resource sustainability and access?  

Fact 5: The Fishing Policies of 2001 and 2005 were adopted and implemented by ANC-led governments - not some other opposition government as Ehrenreich appears to believe. In particular, the 2005 fishing policies were adopted by a Cabinet meeting chaired by then Deputy President Jacob Zuma. So, is Ehrenreich and co saying that Zuma and the Cabinet of 2005 adopted racist, backward policies which excluded all these thousands of fishers? He clearly made this point in his pamphlet which he distributed yesterday. I wonder what Minister Valli Moosa (retired) and current Minister Van Schalkwyk would say to being accused of implementing racist, pro-apartheid policies! 

Fact 6: Rabid populism was never a feature of any of the previous processes. A key feature of the 2001 and 2005 fishing allocation processes was that populist promises were not on offer. If the rumours that the department received some 2500 applications for fishing quotas are to be believed, it will mean that more than 1500 applicants will have to be turned away - that would amount to a 60% rejection rate! This is what you get when you zero-rate application fees and promise fishing quotas to all, including handing out applications in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape which is 200km from East London. 

Fact 7: The current chaotic and parlous state of the fishing industry has been caused by the current crop of unqualified and inexperienced top managers appointed at DAFF. There have 10 acting DDG's at fisheries since December 2010 and none have or had any qualifications or experience in fisheries management. The current incumbent's CV would not even pass the initial vetting criteria for the post (which requires at a minimum an "honours degree"). There has not been a permanent head of fisheries management for at least the past 2 years. Between 2000 and 2005, there was a single highly qualified and respected DDG of Fisheries, supported by only 3 Chief Directors responsible for compliance, management and research. Today, you have 6 Chief Directors. The positive public image of Fisheries Branch at the time is proof of the maturity of leadership; the predictability of policy; the security of fishing rights; and the absence of maladministration and corruption. How much negative publicity did Marine and Coastal Management attract between 2001 and 2005? Go ahead, Google. 

The chaos and thuggery that has come to once again define the fishing industry is reminiscent of the late 1990's when the old Sea Fisheries sub-directorate was overrun with corruption, maladministration, the lack of leadership and policy confusion. Back then quota allocation processes were run secretly by cabals promising quotas and threatening those that did not toe the line. This is again apparent with the 2013 FRAP. Once again, the process is shrouded by a veil of secrecy. Different groupings of people are given different information. People are thrown out of meetings when they raise hard questions or raise issues the department's thugs disagree with. Or your fishing quota is threatened. But you can understand this given the intellectual dearth that is the top management of fisheries today. Intellectual debate and engagement is not possible. 

History teaches us nothing (especially when you only need 30% to pass the subject today). The Department of Fisheries and the likes of COSATU will insist that the best shape for the wheel is the square. We of course maintain that the circle works best. All the evidence indeed points to this. But populism knows no logic. 

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