South Africa

CRIME SYNDICATE

Abalone poachers pelt Western Cape environmentalist with stones for interfering with their ‘business’

Abalone poachers pelt Western Cape environmentalist with stones for interfering with their ‘business’
Abalone poaching in the Overberg is operated by various syndicate groups. (Photo: Supplied)

Poachers stoned an environmentalist near his home after he stopped them from taking abalone in Betty’s Bay. What the environmentalist didn’t realise was that family members of the West Coast syndicate were waiting for the abalone.

After an environmentalist stopped a large bag of poached abalone from reaching criminals in Betty’s Bay, his life may be in danger of retaliation from the syndicate.

The man was assaulted by a gang of poachers on Wednesday, 30 November. Police are investigating a case of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The name of the victim is being withheld for reasons of personal safety.

Abalone poaching in the Western Cape has been a lucrative business for many years. Gangs involved in the illicit trade are often also involved in drug trafficking, which fuels crime and violence in the province.

Poachers had diving gear

Recounting his ordeal, the environmentalist told Daily Maverick that he had seen a person on the footpath to Silver Sands beach in Betty’s Bay carrying a large bag. A second person followed, with scuba gear and a wetsuit.

He suspected the two men had been poaching and advised his wife to contact armed response and the police. He opened the gate in front of his house and asked what they were carrying, telling them to put the bag down.  The suspected poachers refused and a scuffle ensued. The men then fled, leaving the bag behind. The environmentalist took the bag containing the abalone and put it in his yard.

The poachers returned later in a white vehicle and stopped at his front gate.

“Three men got out of the car. I could hear them speaking … telling each other to throw stones at me and the house. I could see them throwing stones directly at me … I ducked and took cover behind the fence.

A recording of the incident was handed to police.

Abalone poaching in the Overberg. (Photo: Supplied)


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Syndicates

The Betty’s Bay Neighbourhood Watch told Daily Maverick that incidents of poachers assaulting residents were rare, since most people preferred to avoid confrontation of this sort.

Chairperson Wayne Jackson said: “This is not what normally happens here. We encourage residents not to get involved.”

Daily Maverick spoke to a few residents, who asked not to be named:

“There are various poaching syndicates in Overstrand, and locals are involved. The syndicates are the 28 gang, foreigners and local members. A complicating factor is fishing quotas, which prevent men from simply going out and fishing and putting food on the table. They get involved in poaching out of desperation,” said one resident.

The situation is similar to that in Saldanha and Paternoster on the West Coast, where a lack of quotas drives some fishermen to poaching as a means of survival.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Facing death by drowning or hunger forces Cape coastal communities into stormy seas

In response to a DA question in Parliament earlier this year, Police Minister Bheki Cele said that nearly 500,000 abalone and crayfish have been poached in the marine ecosystems of Gansbaai, Hangklip, Pringle Bay, Hawston, Kleinmond and Hermanus in the last five years.

Poaching of abalone and crayfish has long been out of control in the Overstrand region.

According to Dave Bryant, DA Shadow Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, these statistics only scratch the surface of the real numbers of poached abalone and crayfish.

Threats of violence

The threat of violence from poachers is a very real one, as evidenced in recent convictions in the Hermanus Regional Court. Residents recall a murder which serves as a stark reminder of what could happen if the syndicates are challenged, even by rival gangs.

On 23 September this year, a 24-year-old gangster by the name of Ronaldo van der Berg was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Cameron Marc Padayachee, who was involved in abalone smuggling and refused to pay extortion fees.

The murder happened on 21 December 2021. Padayachee and his employee had been repairing his vehicle in front of the deceased’s residence in Kapokblom Street, Gansbaai, when Van der Berg approached them and opened fire. Padayachee’s two children and his employee were not injured.

Van der Berg’s plea and sentencing agreement exemplifies how syndicates operate with impunity. Van der Berg admitted that he killed the deceased because he refused to pay extortion from the proceeds of his abalone poaching business.

At the time of sentencing, NPA Western Cape spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila indicated that the prosecution would be arguing for a hefty sentence, contending that the killing of Padayachee was “premeditated and committed with direct intent… to teach him and other abalone poachers not to disobey orders, pay a certain percentage of their illegal abalone proceeds to a grouping, or suffer dire consequences.

“Padayachee served as a warning to other poachers to obey orders to pay specific amounts of money in order to continue poaching.”

The prospect of serving serious time in jail has not been much of a deterrent to perlemoen poachers. 

On 2 December, the Overstrand K9 unit assisted in the arrest of alleged members of an abalone smuggling syndicate. Police say a shipment was being transported along the N2 near Grabouw when the vehicle was chased and brought to a stop. Police confiscated 1,563 abalone with an estimated street value of R350,000.

Reagen Allen, MEC for Police Oversight and Community Safety in the Western Cape, praised the K9 unit and said there was a great need for similar units to be expanded, especially since the SAPS’s dog unit in the Western Cape has been depleted.

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has not yet responded to queries on the illegal abalone trade. DM

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