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Change the world


If you want to know the future, look at the past, is an age-old phrase which according to Nelson Mandela University (NMU) researchers has never been more relevant for Gqeberha after maritime decisionmakers descended on Gqeberha recently for the African Maritime Leadership Conference.

EXPLORING OUR PAST: NMU Prof Magda Minguzzi at the ancient fish trap at Cape Recife

NMU researchers said ocean economy decisionmakers needed to be guided by the message of “regeneration” left behind in ancient fish traps by the Eastern Cape’s first people.

The research is being undertaken with guidance from a group of 10 Bay Khoi San leaders and through support from the National Research Fund.

Dr Magda Minguzzi, a senior lecturer and NMU’s school of architecture researcher at the university’s Institute for

Coastal and Marine Research, said the fish traps were a priceless asset that the Eastern Cape should be proud of.

“There are a number of fish traps in the Western Cape and three confirmed sites in the Eastern Cape — at Klip Drift in the Tsitsikamma, Oyster Bay and Cape Recife.

“These were the supermarkets to the First Nation people who lived in this area at least 2,000 years ago.

“They were also, of course, the very first man-made structures in the region and perhaps anywhere.”

She said the traps were ingeniously simple.

“Each one consisted of dozens of rocks laid in the intertidal zone in perfect symbiosis with local environmental conditions to create low walls to guide the fish down a channel into a pool.

“During high tide, the fish would swim into the pool and when the tide went down they would be trapped there.

“Then these first fisherfolk would spear the fish or ‘unplug’ the pool by removing a rock or two and with reed baskets catch the fish as they swam out.

“The method was systematic and sustainable.”

Khoikhoi Gaob Chief Maleiba of the Damasonqua tribe, traditional cultural custodian of the Cape Recife area, said the fish traps were the footprint of

the aboxan or ancestors of the Khoi and San and welcomed the research.

“This process will contribute to the restoration of fractured Khoi identity and heritage.”

Minguzzi said humankind in the present day was facing a socioeconomic and environmental crisis that had to be tackled.

“The best way forward is to listen to the message of the indigenous people.

“It says we must base our economy on a regenerative approach.

“We need to drastically change our approach to how we engage with nature and these fish traps show us how we can do that.”

SA’s First Nation fish traps were mirrored all over the world from Australia and Japan to the Americas, where the earliest indigenous residents had created and used very similar structures.

She said the Eastern Cape’s fish traps provided a unique opportunity for the authorities.

“Working with the findings we are producing, they could be restored and used to attract tourists and create jobs for First Nation people, who could be employed as guides and storytellers.

“We hope the authorities will use these traps to guide the establishment of a sustainable oceans economy.”

This article appeared in the Herald on 29 May 2023 written by Guy Rogers.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160