South Africa


No work: Abalone poachers in Kleinmond say they have no choice – it’s poach or starve

Numerous families living in Overhills informal settlement in Kleinmond depend on abalone poaching.(Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

Kleinmond was rocked by violent protests this week after five men were arrested for poaching abalone.

First published by GroundUp.

After Monday’s protests in the small coastal town of Kleinmond, near Hermanus, a meeting was held with authorities on Wednesday evening to calm the situation.

“We know what we are doing is illegal. We know it is a crime. But it is not a violent crime,” an abalone poacher living in the Overhills informal settlement told GroundUp on Wednesday.

Protests broke out earlier in the week after police arrested five men for abalone (perlemoen) poaching. The police used rubber bullets to break up the protest and passing cars were stoned.

“That day, they pushed us to our limits,” said a poacher. He said police entered his home and confiscated his diving suits. “It’s not a crime to have a diving suit in your house. But they just took it.”

Captain FC Van Wyk from SAPS Western Cape said police were tipped off by an informer and seized diving equipment “used in committing a crime”.

He said “poachers attacked the SAPS members with stones and rocks” and later blocked the road with burning tyres. “Vehicles were damaged and people were injured. The safety of the public was at risk.”

Daily Maverick reported that one of its columnists, Ismail Lagardien, sustained serious injuries when a brick smashed through his car window in the Overhills area.

A man arrested for public violence showed us several rubber bullet wounds on his body, including one on his face. He also had grazes as a result, he claimed, of being dragged away by police.

Poaching in Kleinmond

A recent report by TRAFFIC, an NGO that monitors wildlife trade, says that approximately 96 million abalone were illegally harvested between 2000 and 2016 in South Africa. Most of the abalone ends up on the Asian market.

Poachers from Kleinmond insist that poaching is the only way they can support their families. The men we spoke to wished to remain anonymous.

“There are no jobs in Kleinmond; it’s a small town… I’ve been poaching for many years and this is how we’re making a living. This is how we support our families.”

“There are a lot of people who have come out of housebreaking here and they’re working peacefully now in poaching,” one man said.

A community leader said that even though poaching is illegal, it does not allow the police to violate their right to privacy. “You cannot just come to my property and do whatever you like… Treat people in a dignified manner.”

He said the “contribution [by poachers] is highly appreciated in our community”.

“If they didn’t give that contribution, I wouldn’t have been standing here. The money goes to the community,” he said.

A meeting was held between Overhills community leaders, the Kleinmond SAPS and the Kleinmond Community Police Forum (CPF) on Wednesday evening.

Community leader Isaac Vana said that during the meeting he addressed various issues, one being the unavailability of police in the Overhills area on weekends.

Vana said he had raised the poaching issue and is hoping to have it addressed further in future meetings. He said the poaching issue was “affecting innocent people” in their community, such as [police] “firing rubber bullets at people that were not part of the violence”.

“It’s not that we’re defending the poaching. We’re also worried about the innocent people who were driving by,” said Vana. DM



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