Kapenta Fishery Workers Face Destitution Over Unpaid Permits,Corruption

By Criswell Chisango

KARIBA – A lasting career path as kapenta fishery worker at Lake Kariba now looks bleak for 39 year old Charles Mapeto as government authorities repossess many permits with outstanding fee payments. Hundreds others like Mapeto are affected by this move

Kapenta workers remain victims of abuse by mostly dishonest indigenous players making life difficult for them.

Mapeto says workers are being exploited in the brutal life affecting the fishing industry as a whole.

‘’We are facing a vicious lifestyle as kapenta workers are on contract where employers fire and recruit as they wish. No one can have the tenacity to ask them about their action. As you may know fish farming is like hunting and unpredictable though you are paid per kilogram of kapenta a day, it remains uncalled-for. The exploitation is now part of our life. We are suffering in silence after white employers pulled out of the industry, leaving us at the mercy of these indigenous employers’’ a desperate Mapeto reflects

Mapeto’s worry has been compounded by the fact that the resort town of Kariba faces massive job cuts following revelations that some permit holders ducked paying outstanding fines Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, ZPWMA, which falls under the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate as the regulating authority mandated to monitor fishery industry including issuing of permits. 

Kapenta industry players say some permits that are in arrears will be repossessed and auctioned in July exposing hundreds of workers to destitution in the town whose economic revival hinges on fishing and tourism.

On the hand ZNPWMA officials face accusations of fueling corruption through ‘’underhand dealings’’ resulting in unlimited poaching especially in breeding zone affecting the growth of kapenta reserves.

Unmonitored operations

‘’ZNPWMA officials hardly monitor operations but instead are working closely with dubious fishermen and Zambian poachers thereby affecting breeding space’’ says a director who declines to be named.    

He adds that fishing industry is no longer lucrative business due to high costs as most permit holders are hiring out permits, making huge profits that are tax free.

‘’We face operational costs to maintain hired boats, permits and pay workers while ZNPWMA officials demand some money from underhand dealings thereby forcing looses in fishing industry. If your boat fails to qualify in the lake or violate fishery laws, you pay the bill as permit holder just passes it to you. Hiring a boat costs at least 90 kilograms of kapenta pegged at $6 a kg monthly whether there is enough catch or not and it affects our operations.’’, he adds.

He also adds that they are co competing with poachers as there are no regular researches done to see if there is enough kapenta for the season.

‘’Breeding zones are being poached daily impacting negatively on the future of the industry’’ he adds.

Deep rooted corruption

Aquatic Fisheries manager Martin Chipendo admits that fishing industry is greatly affected by deep rooted corruption and maladministration.

‘’It is a fact that fishermen at Chalala harbor work closely with some corrupt ZNPWMA officials who alerted them in advance of any raids before they are carried out. These officials demand 60 kilograms of kapenta monthly as middlemen. We appeal to President Robert Mugabe to intervene as corruption is now deep rooted and affecting fishing industry.’’, pleads Chipendo.

Chipendo adds that Kariba dam is being ‘’overfished’’ without action to curb rampant poaching due to rampant corruption.

Kapenta Workers Union of Zimbabwe, KWUZ, secretary-general Gerald Chimurewo expresses concern that most fishermen will be out of jobs.

“Most employers are indigenous businessmen and they owe several thousands of dollars of fines to the permits. This means that many kapenta workers will be out of work if the permits are withdrawn,” says Chimurewo.

KWUZ has 8 000 members covering Chalala, Bumi Hills, Binga and Kariba.

“The indigenization policy is the worst solution for thousands of fishermen and families as we are not protected by the law as workers. We are suffering besides our pleas to relevant authorities. There is looming disaster as the auction of permits will see more people into streets’’ he says.

Chimurewo says black employers abuse workers by paying them for eight hours while they work for 17 hours daily.

‘’Our basic salary is pegged at $124 monthly. It is total exploitation.’’ says Chimurewo.

A source within the regulating authority explains that some operators owe several thousand of dollars in outstanding fines.

‘’Some of the operators have outstanding fines ranging from $2000 to $2350.00 for various crimes including fishing in prohibited areas. They never paid up and were dodging. National Parks has no option but to withdraw permits and auction them to recover the costs. We notified them that they must meet the 31 July deadline to pay up or risk having the permits withdrawn and auctioned’’ adds the official speaking on condition that he is not named as he has no authority to speak to journalists.

According to other sources, four permits from Kariba and 79 from Chalala were auctioned at ‘’higher prices’’ after the owners failed to pay outstanding fees in December last year thus opening avenues of exposing permit holders hiding behind ‘’black empowerment’’.

‘’Some of them do not want to pay for anything but Government needs taxes to survive’’ adds another source.

Out of employment MP

Kariba Member of Parliament Isaac Mackenzie admits that the permits saga is likely to affect the industry.

‘’The higher bids for the permits auctioned last year reverse indigenization policy as no one can afford to pay $2500.00 per permit. I have been alerted of corruption involving some officials and we hope the law will take its course and safeguard the affected workers. It is true that if the permits are withdrawn, majority of the workers will be out of employment’’ says Mackenzie.

There are 160 permits accounting to 385 units or boats (rigs) for kapenta fishery issued by ZPWMA in Kariba dam while their Zambia counterparts account for at least 750 units.

ZPWMA spokesperson Caroline Washaya-Moyo was out of office to answer questions on the matter.

Ownership of the fishery business by black Zimbabweans through government’s indigenization and empowerment program remains a dream for thousands of fishery workers who are now facing the realities of destitution while available natural resources like fish are mismanaged.