Hangberg protests turn violent, father demands answers on missing fisherman son
Protesters in Hangberg, Hout Bay took to the streets on Monday to "fight for their brother" who went missing during an anti-poaching operation at sea.
The violent protests, which started on Sunday, were sparked when an anti-poaching task team intercepted 25-year-old Deurick van Blerk and two others, who had allegedly been fishing illegally in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Two people were arrested and their crayfish confiscated. Van Blerk apparently jumped overboard and, when he didn’t return home, police opened a missing persons docket.
Police conducted a search operation on Monday which involved the use of two rubber ducks and one rescue dog, police spokesperson FC Van Wyk said.
"The family was informed of the procedure that will take place while searching for the missing person," he added.
When News24 arrived at the scene, the search had concluded for the day and protesters started burning boats in Atlantic Skipper Street to voice their frustrations. A factory in Harbour Street was also set alight.
A large crowd comprising mostly young men, made their way to the Hout Bay market and were seen setting wooden restaurant tables on fire.
Multiple flares were thrown at surrounding properties during a standoff with police, who fired rubber bullets and stun grenades in retaliation.
Close by, a vandalised government vehicle was found near a popular fish restaurant.
"The police shot our brother. They shot him because he was at sea. It's illegal to fish at night," one protester said.
"We catch fish to put food on the table. That fish was meant to feed the family."
Watch residents express their views on the matter:
"If government doesn't give us rights as fishermen, people will never stop. Our children will always be hungry and they will always be angry because their fathers are fishermen," he said.
"They have no work, they are sitting at home without jobs. The main message is that the government must provide us with rights, otherwise this will never end."
During protests last year, the fishing community in Hangberg demanded unrestricted access to what they considered to be their traditional fishing grounds in Duikersklip and in the marine protected area.
The protest on Monday briefly came to a halt when Van Blerk's father Edward arrived on the scene to admonish the group.
"Have some respect. Imagine if your son died and people did this. Why are you burning the factories where our people work?" he asked.
The grieving father said that he was upset that the police had concluded the search without speaking to the family.
"The search party and the police went out to search for him. But they didn't come back to tell us what happened - if they found anything. They just came out and they're missing. We didn't get any answers.
"We went to the police station to get information from the station commander. But even he didn’t know and they were supposed to report to him," he said.
He choked back tears when he spoke about his son.
"You can ask anyone here what type of person he was. He was a people person. I've never had any problems with him. He was the youngest of three sons. I will miss him a lot," Edward said.
"I haven't given up yet. We’ll give it another day. We have very little hope – we feel like we've lost him."
Meanwhile, the government says it will urgently address volatility in the area after the violent protests.
In a statement, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana said there had been damage to state properties and coastal offices of the department had been set alight. He said the "lives of the officials on site [are] being seriously threatened".
"The South African Police, DAFF security, together with the Department of Public Works are investigating the matter that has hampered operations in the harbour. Engagements with the community will take place," he said on Monday.
"The department has been informed that, in addition to the anti-poaching incident, [police] are also investigating the violent protests," Nkwanyana added.
He said four people had been arrested and would be charged with public violence and arson.