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Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

South African fisheries reform – past, present and future?

PLAAS Policy Brief No 116 - August 2005

Moenieba Isaacs, Mafaniso Hara and Jesper Raakjжr Nielsen1

Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS)

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The African National Congress (ANC) contested the April 1994 elections on the basis of a vision of ‘a better life for all’, to be achieved through its people-centred Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) policy framework (ANC 1994). This created expectations that many in the ‘marginalised’ fishing communities would secure their own fishing rights and small businesses. It was hoped that the revised fisheries policy would deliver on these expectations, while at the same time maintaining an internationally competitive fishing industry (Isaacs 2005).

Due to pressure from established economic interests, in 1996 the new government shifted its macro-economic policy to a ‘home-grown’ structural adjustment programme called the Growth, Employment and Redistribution macroeconomic framework (Gear). This resulted largely in abandonment of the key principles and policies of the RDP and the adoption of neo-liberal economic principles including privatisation, subsidy removal, and downsizing of the public sector; and encouragement of small black entrepreneurs. Gear was aimed at achieving equity and redistribution through economic growth and job creation (Bond 2000).2 The authors of Gear imagined poverty alleviation would be achieved through the ‘trickle-down’ effect of a new group of entrepreneurs who would establish labour-intensive small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). This was in direct contrast to the RDP’s approach of redistributing wealth through interventionist state policies based on socialist ideology.3 The shift to Gear resulted in large numbers of bona fide fishers being excluded up-front from the formal allocation process because they could not demonstrate their entrepreneurship through being able to complete application forms and engage in related bureaucratic procedures without help (Isaacs 2005).

In order to understand how the transformation process was supposed to contribute to poverty alleviation, one needs to understand the capital accumulation/ wealth generation and safety net functions of enterprise development and job creation. Bйnй’s framework on poverty alleviation (2004) provides a useful analytical tool. This author argues that vulnerable individuals or groups of individuals are usually at risk of being exploited by persons or groups that are in positions of power because they are economically insecure.4 In this publication, we will use the concepts of poverty, vulnerability and entrepreneurship to look at the contribution (or failure) of fisheries to the improvement of the livelihoods of coastal communities, including the proposed mechanism of co-management (see Hauck & Sowman 2003 and Hara & Raakjжr Nielsen 2003).

The shift in macroeconomic policy was an important factor in relation to ‘transformation’ of the fisheries sector in that the focus for transforming the sector moved from re-allocation of access rights to one of promoting black economic empowerment (BEE). BEE was focused mainly on addressing racial and gender imbalances within the industry. It took the form of offering ownership of shares in established enterprises to historically disadvantaged individuals (HDIs) organised in empowerment groups and/ or labour unions, transferring technical and management skills to HDIs, and promoting HDI employees to positions of management decision making. The focus was not on the vulnerability of the workers within the existing established companies under BEE schemes, and new rights holders and the SMMEs that have been established after achieving access to fishing rights.

‘Transformation’ is not defined in the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 or in any other legislative or policy document (Witbooi forthcoming 2005). The vision of the government’s new policy is probably what was meant by ‘transformation’ in the Act:
the marine resources are a national asset and part of the heritage of the people of South Africa, present and future, and should be managed and developed for the benefit of the country as a whole, especially those communities whose livelihoods depended on these resources; and that the allocation of the resources would be made on an equitable basis, with a view to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the resources and their healthy condition for present and future generations.

Two approaches to transformation were being used: the broadening of access rights to new rights holders (individuals and companies) through state intervention (external transformation); and market-led change within state BEE policy (internal transformation). The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) branch of Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) was given the responsibility for external transformation. The new Constitution with its Bill of Rights and the new fisheries policy paved the way for new entrants to enter this sector, but MCM struggled with managing and administering this process. A complicating factor was that the sector was already oversubscribed – making space for new entrants would require cutting existing allocations. Internal transformation was to take place through market-based reforms within companies through change in ownership, giving workers more benefits and share schemes, assisting in the empowerment of new right holders and so on. This market-based intervention impacted on the extent of state intervention from the start, leaving little room for a more community-based empowerment option to transformation in the industry (See Hersoug 2002).

The responsibility of the state through MCM is to ensure that the equity and redistribution are achieved without endangering the economic stability of the industry and sustainability of the resource. From the very beginning, it was clear that the goals of transformation would be in conflict with the principles of resource management since meeting the expectations of the many potential new entrants would not be in line with the limited room for expansion that sustainable resource management entailed. Adding to this was the fear among the established companies that allowing too many new entrants could create chaos and result in economic instability in the industry. Several factors impeded or were used to block or slow transformation, especially by those already in the industry.

  1. Moenieba Isaacs, PLAAS, , Mafa Hara, PLAAS, , Jesper Raakjжr Nielsen, Institute for Fisheries Management and Coastal Community Development, Denmark, (), who was on subbatical at PLAAS between July 2004 and August 2005.
  2. Gear was largely based on the assumption that strong economic growth would result in creation of greater wealth and that the benefits of such increase in wealth would filter down to those at the bottom or margins of the economy (the ‘trickle down’ theory).
  3. The Fisheries Policy for South Africa (1996), Marine Fisheries White Paper (1997) and the Marine Living Resources Act (1998) were all embedded in this new neo-liberal orthodoxy, which was quite different from the RDP policy approach advocated by ANC in the 1994 election.
  4. Chambers (1989:1) refers to vulnerability ‘exposure to contingencies and stress, and difficulty in coping with them’.

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