Fishing for the future

Aquaculture farmers in QwaQwa, Free State, say the ‘tide has turned’ for the once cash-strapped venture that was launched 18 years ago to create jobs and food security.

The non-profit organisation Black Survival breeds catfish and carp. Established in 2000, the venture is run from an abandoned water purification plant on the outskirts of Phuthaditjhaba. Fish are sold to locals for between R10 and R85 each.

The community has an unemployment rate of 41.8%, with youth unemployment at a staggering 53%, according to Stats SA. But one of the organisation’s core members, Ditabe Matli, 48, is convinced the project will create 1 500 jobs after the plant has been revamped to incorporate smaller hatcheries in communities along the Namahadi River, which flows into the Vaal River.

The father of four says his love for rural aquaculture came about when he noticed that the rivers streaming past his home village, Mphatlalatsane, “had the potential to become a food source for the community”. But the project has turned into much more than just a food source: “We are going to have firms that makes shoes, clothes, animal feed, oil and car seat covers. We can create more than 10 firms from breeding fish,” says Matli. The scales of a 60cm catfish, for instance, can be used to make nail tips and belts.

2 October 2018: Ditabe Matli of the Black Survival Project says that their work has been put on hold for too long because of lack of proper project management by contractors who were brought in by the new administration in the department of Agriculture.

Learning to swim

There have been many teething problems since the project’s inception. According to Matli, the tide turned in 2015 when the project submitted a business plan to the provincial agriculture and rural development department. “We struggled to get funding until the department stepped in.”

Matli says the project leveraged the water crisis to persuade the department to help with upgrading the plant’s water infrastructure. “We want to draw water from the Namahadi River into the dams at the purification plant,” he explains. Ditabe says the department has allocated R6 million for the renovations.

Members of the project dream of a hatchery equivalent to the R45 million hatchery at Gariep Dam in northern Free State, which was created to develop rural aquaculture and function as a fingerling supply station for rural aquaculture projects in the province and beyond.

The project’s Paulo Sebolawa, 33, says property close to Metsi Matso Dam in QwaQwa has been identified to pilot a hatchery for breeding freshwater species. “We want to breed fish and distribute them in South Africa,” he says. “We just need a hatchery.”

But with such ambitious plans, the funding from the department alone is not sufficient for the project to become fully operational.

2 October 2018: The Black Survival Aquaculture Project makes products like shoes, belts and jewellery out of the fish they breed.

Skills for growth

Matli hopes the hatchery will pique the interest of pupils, academics and scientists. “We want to develop rural aquaculture and give people tools to fend for themselves,” he says.

While they wait for more funding, many of the organisation’s members obtained an introductory certificate in freshwater aquaculture from Rhodes University earlier this year, and frequently visit the Gariep hatchery to learn how to breed different types of fish organically and artificially. “The training sessions cover research on water quality and correct temperatures to breed a variety of fish,” Sebolawa says.

Their progress might be slow, but their resolve is undiminished. Matli’s associate, Motjale Moepa, 43, is the only breadwinner for a family of five. He is just as enthusiastic about the project’s potential. “We cannot give up now. The project has fed so many families.”

2 October 2018: Motjale Moepa is part of the Black Survival Aquaculture Project. Moepa says that the project has a lot of potential to grow their community economically.
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