Read their testimonies here.
“You want to come here and tell me you want to give us skills… I am a very skilled person, I am a fisherman, I don’t need other skills to perform, I will not do that… don’t come and tell me to upskill! Where is that man who said we need skills, ah! Now you start running away… We don’t need your capacity development, we want to remain as fishermen and these Oil and Gas fields you want to bring to our ocean is going to come here and destroy our livelihoods for fishing.“
This testimony by Mr Christian Adams, from “The Collective” that forms part of the Fishers United movement. Adams, a west coast fisher himself, was met by massive applause in the echoing hall of White City Multipurpose Centre this past Sunday (23rd Sunday 2022). The Coastal Justice Network went to support Christian and other small scale fishers, as well as The Green Connections legacy participants at the Sunday hearings, in the midst of a massive heatwave. Powerful testimonies were shared at the Gas Amendment Bill (B9-221) hearings.
The bill itself, according to the parliament issued pamphlet handed out at the hearings, seeks to address gaps in the principle Act. Parliament has conducted a series of public hearings around the country in the past week, with many being met with opposition from coastal communities and fishers.
Before the hearings had begun, protesters and leaders shared their concerns standing on a high platform organised by The Green Connection legacy participants and Small Scale Fisher groups, outside the hall. One such speaker, Indigenous Cochoqua Kingdom Chief Andrian Markels said:
“We are here today to oppose this Gas Amendment Bill… we cannot trust a government who doesn’t consider the people, they compiled this Gas Amendment Bill without us, they just come today to us to rubber stamp this, the whole process was unconstitutional… the Indigenous people of this region are not recognised, the spirituality of Africa for all of us africans to survive on this soil… our leaders are not Africans, they look like Africans but they are westernised, they have sold us out, we have not come to bow, we have come to tell them to grow up we are here, we are living people, with living minds, we cannot be dominated, they cannot impose their dogma on us, we were here first, if they don’t accept the Indigenous people, they are not accepting the people who have the first rights to South Africa, this government is illegitimate!“
Fisher groups as far as Port St. Johns in the Eastern Came in support of West Coast fishers, to show their solidarity, and arrived with assistance from the Green Connection, and shared their similar concerns and sentiments.
On entering the hall where the hearings were taking place, fishers and Indigenous leaders had their placards taken from them at security, and told by security: “You are not allowed to protest in the hearings”, and moments later when entering the building at registration, fishers were told to be silent, and their singing was cut short by an official who told the crowd: “You are here to listen, not sing, singing is prohibited”. This was a worrisome start, whereby the powerful customary practice of singing and the long history of music, dance and song as participation in democracy and living lore/law in South Africa, was suddenly banned from the event. This set an authoritarian tone of silencing, further marginalising and intimidating the voices of those for which this hearing was designed.
At the registration desk, printed copies of the bill were available in English, with summaries available in Afrikaans and Xhosa, along with a pamphlet explaining the context of the hearings. For many this was the first time fishers had a chance to see the bill. As one fisher from Saldanha Bay sarcastically commented behind us: “So I must quickly read this 35 page document in 5 minutes before the hearings, lekker!” The pamphlet, produced by the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, reads that Parliament is inviting public input because it is “mandated by the Constitution to ensure that the public is involved in all its processes, including law making”. There is no mention of other reasons, such as aiming to ensure a democratic process or valuing the inputs of Indigenous and local communities. Like Mr Adams firmly states “this is a tick box operation for you”.
On entering the Hall, lined with rows of red plastic chairs which faced a stage, the Portfolio Committee sat behind a long table, draped in a black table cloth, adorned with the gold parliament emblem and the words “Parliament” embellished in repeat along the cloth. Elevated and pre-occupied by their cell phone and computer screens the Portfolio Committee waits for the citizens to enter the hall. At the front of the row, two microphones stand for citizens to speak into one at a time, one occupied by an Afrikaans interpreter.
Once the room is full, the national anthem blasts out of the sound system, with the majority of the room remaining silent, adding to the tension of the pending showdown. The room was charged, with several instances in which the Portfolio chair and moderator having to shush ‘boos’ and applause, and saying to the room: “We are allowed to have different opinions, everyone must speak.”
One of the most powerful spoken testimonies came from Christian Adams, a fisher from the West Coast, who along with 13 other applicants filed a court interdict at the High Court in Cape Town, two days prior (on 21st January 2022). The interdict was submitted by the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) lawyer Wilmien Wacomb, against the SEARCHER GEODATA seismic surveys underway off the West Coast this month.
Mr Adams begins:
First and foremost I would like to say that I am representing the small-scale fishing community of steenbergs cove. We oppose the amendments of this bill. And secondly, we request of the minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, the portfolio committee, and the departments that a moratorium is placed on all gas and oil developments that are currently happening in our oceans
(big applause around the room).
My name is Christian Adams and I am a fourth generation small scale fisher, and my family has been fishing the waters of abalone, rock lobster and line fish on the West coast of South Africa since time immemorial … Mr Chairman, you spoke earlier about the two million rand that will be fined by people who oppose the bill – but currently in South Africa .. eight rand per ton of CO2 – and the international standard is R45 000 per ton, if you look at the numbers that South Africa is giving away, what we are doing is that we are paying to degrade our environment further
In terms of the triple BEE, we have already seen that according to News24, the ANC financial links itself to Shell, with 15 million rand being paid through channels, and the money is being used to pay the wages of ANC employees… how can we as a community that do not trust the government already, how can we condone and say yes you can continue with this amendment act?
Yes we are speaking about the gas bill here, and about 2 months ago … money was given to SA for green developments, this was given by the US, the UK, France and Germany – and when we look at the companies that are involved in these oil and gas developments, alot of them come from the same countries – so none of this money will actually be used for the greener development in South Africa.
Yes, we are seeing that there are some proposals for this bill, but we can see that already in 2015 – this gas field that is being proposed – that this gas field already has a name. I put this question to you as the portfolio committee, did you know about this? That this already has a name?
We are speaking about moving to greener energy solutions, but with methane gas, it is twenty times more potent than CO2. So what will happen to the oceans if we continue with this methane gas?…
From a project report from the Ibubesi Gas field, I learned that around the pipeline, but according to the ‘colregs’, maybe you don’t know what ‘colregs’ are systems we use to manage traffic on the ocean. With these Oil and Gas platforms and the pipelines that run from them, they cannot be moved, we as fishers and fishing communities will be affected detrimentally because the distance that we have to keep to stay away from these pipelines reduces the areas where we can fish… so you are going to come here and tell me, tell my fisher brothers and sisters, that we can’t fish in these waters, the same waters my grandfather, my uncles have sailed and fished, and now I am fishing it with my sons! It seems to me that what you want is a west coast without fishing, you want quaint little fishing villages, but you don’t want to see fishermen and fisherwomen in that area.
You want to come here and tell me you want to give us skills… I am a very skilled person, I am a fisherman, I don’t need other skills to perform, I will not do that… don’t come and tell me to upskill! Where is that man who said we need skills, ah! Now you start running away… We don’t need your capacity development, we want to remain as fishermen and these Oil and Gas fields you want to bring to our ocean is going to come here and destroy our livelihoods for fishing.
We have already seen the detrimental effect that it has had on the St Helena baai Harbour – where the dredging they have done around the Harbour has moved fish about 600m out of the harbour – there is no more life – there is no more life. I speak on behalf of thousands of people. There are no more fish in the area after dredging. And it is not even an oil field or anything there. There is no single fish, no single lobster, not a single fish in the area outside of our harbour … and there is no methane gas that has been dug up yet, there is no oil that has been dug up there – just sand being taken out and we see with our own eyes the effect it has in that immediate area.
In 2017 you came here with your Marine Spatial Planning bill. We told you, yet again you didn’t consult us. You come here now – this is a tick box operation for you. So “yes, tick, we have consulted with the people of the west coast”. Meanwhile, you continue Minster Mantashe raping our ocean health, raping our country of its resources!
One of the major concerns that was mentioned consistently amongst fisher and Indigenous leaders was the poor, or in some cases, lack of consultation by Government on this Bill. Another West Coast fisherman, Abdul Andrews, stated:
I’m a fisherman – we have heard about the bill- we are women and men working to sustain our families from the ocean. We don’t know about this bill- at the end of the day it’s going to be a back and forth of questions and fighting and miscommunication.
Will there be a seminar or workshop to inform the fishers and the direct impact it will have on them?….I worked at Mosgas- I know the terrible impact it has on fish first hand- we are talking about the corporate companies coming to drill here?
Can parliament tell us who these companies are? When they come to our sea, where we are getting our daily bread from the sea. Can we stand here and discuss the amendment bill? But, what we really want to know is: has South Africa sold our oceans to companies overseas? When we look at the map of South African oceans, we see companies like Shell and Total have bought these blocks to mine and drill.
If these blocks were surveyed by different companies – and sold to these companies this means we don’t even own them any more. You have gone and given other people rights to these places that we have lost? We are not here for the amendment bill, we are here today to ask, why have you sold our oceans, we want to know if there are still fish? Is this ocean still ours? And if not, how is the government going to compensate those fishers who lost their livelihood. After the companies go all that’s left is gas, trust me I worked at Mosgass in Mosselbaai, I know that South African gas drilled in SA waters does not benefit the people of South Africa.
Indigenous leaders from the West Coast also questioned the process of the hearings itself, particularly the day chosen to host it. As Chief !Khaesn from the Khoisan tribe in the west coast asked:
Why come on a Sunday when many of us are supposed to be in church, why do you do this? I feel it’s disrespectful for the spiritual people of the west coast, who have spiritual rituals, and practises to perform on a sunday morning?
As Chief !Khaesn went on to enquire:
The Cochoqua tribe is not in support of this amendment bill. If you look at how this act has been put together – communities have not been consulted – if they were consulted properly this bill would look completely differently.
Chief !Khaesn went on to critique specific aspects of the bill, stating that section 2 amendments promote nepotism and “croni-ism, that sidelines benefits to local host communities”. Chief !Khaesn’s argument is that this amendment is written in such a way to benefit existing powerful companies and people, and in this “subtle way shows how local economies can be annexed from the bill and future activities. It’s a clause like this that further excludes us. This perpetuates industrial capitalism that excludes local communities and economies” said Chief !Khaesn.
Another critical point raised by Chief !Khaesn is the power imbalance, whereby the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is approving permits for Oil and Gas, and other mineral and energy projects, as Chief !Khaesn explains:
Section four amendments ensure too much power is given to the minister as the energy regulator… if you look at the stringent requirements fishers have to go through to get a basic fishing permit – it’s strange that you give so much power to one person in parliament to make these decisions and sell rights to massively destructive oil and gas companies and other overseas investors who don’t go through the same restrictions. It’s deeply unfair.
I will not support this bill because there has not been proper consultation- it has not also looked at the ecological impact of perpetuating gas as an alternative energy source – a lifestyle change is needed to be promoted by government not more fossil fuels – we as the first peoples of South Africa have a history of living in harmony with nature… you are choosing profit over planet and people.
The Coastal Justice Network, met with Mr Adams, after the hearings who added:
If you look at it, we have 2500 hours of sunlight per year, we have 200 days of sunlight t, and in most cases we get about 10 hours a day, 240 to 260 days of sunshine per day, why can’t we spend more money on developing solar energy for our country…
As a fisherman just this week alone, because of the wind, we can’t go out to see, there you have an untapped energy resource, sure it’s keeping me from fishing, but why can’t we use that rather for energy, it could create cleaner jobs, and much less damage to the environment.
There were a few testimonies that promoted the bill, and the suggested amendment of ensuring “full compliance with government’s Broad Base Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) legislative requirement” was particularly supported. One testimony from the Black Business Alliance (BBA), the spokesperson said that they want this bill to hurry up because they were hungry and desperate for jobs and work. If these jobs will really be provided to local people remains to be seen.
The key concerns raised from the amendment to the bill by members of the public included, but were not limited to:
- Lack of consultation in developing the amendments
- The powers to fine R2 million per day for “breach of compliance as well as revoking operating licences” and how this might be interpreted
- Increased powers to the Ministers of a government people cannot trust, such as empowering the Minister to “compile a Gas Master Plan, after engagement in gas supply and demand scenario planning” and to “issue an exemption from any of the provision of the Act, if it is likely to: ⎔ Safeguard the national security of the Republic; ⎔ Promote national, strategic or economic interest of Republic; or ⎔ Discharge an international obligation of the Republic”
- In regards to the above, the lack of consulting fishers and Indigenous communities in compiling the Gas Master Plan, and powers of the Minister to issue exemptions of what they might argue is of “economic interest” to the Republic
- The failure of Parliament to prioritise green energy projects and how this Bill continue to prioritise gas developments and reliance on fossil fuels (with the establishment of a Gas Master Plan) which endangers ocean health, biodiversity and livelihoods
- The failure of Parliament to recognise climate costs of gas and the continued impact of gas-related infrastructure such as pipelines on fishing practises and access to ocean space.
The Coastal Justice Network wants to congratulate fishers, Indigenous representatives and local community members on raising awareness and centre-staging the impact of oil & gas developments on their livelihoods, cultural practises and access to the ocean and coast.
According to the Parliament GAS Amendment Bill (B9- 2021) pamphlet handed out on the day, after the hearings, the Portfolio committee will now consider all the public inputs on the amusements of the principal Act for the National Assembly (NA) to pass the Bill. The Bill will then be referred to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for further deliberation and concurrence. The NCOP will initiate its own public participation process as would provincial legislatures. Thereafter the Bill will be sent to the President for assent and signing into law.
For copies of the Bill and any further information on the committee process you can contact the secretary of the portfolio committee on the Mineral Resources and Energy.
The Press release was compiled by Dylan McGarry and Mia Strand from the Coastal Justice Network