Authors: Shuhood Abader and Kimon de Greef
Certainly an interesting book, starting out with the incident where Shuhood was arrested for the last time, marking the end of his poaching career. Even before the Parks Board officials slammed down on them, Shuhood knew instinctively that something was wrong. The accompanying worry had been with him for his entire poaching career, balanced by the yearning for peace of mind that comes with a crime-free existence.
The book exposes the inner workings of the poaching industry, laying bare the social structures that support the communities and people who participate. The reader is made aware of the intricate economy created by the resource for generations of communities that have lived with abalone, as the industry grew and more people became involved at various levels.
This story originated in jail, starting out after Shuhood was arrested. The dichotomy of the poacher’s existence becomes clear as the need develops to show remorse for the criminal career he practised for so long, with him now seeking repentance for his contribution to creating a criminal industry.
The story helps paint a picture of the way in which South African politics created favourable environments for crimes such as poaching. The unsettling of communities through forced removals played a distinct role in creating a need for alternative income. The deadly scourge of tik and other drugs weaved its way into communities, causing untold grief and suffering, and greatly contributing to the guilt load of many poachers.
This difficult situation was further exacerbated through political incompetence, resulting in non-performance in drafting new legislation towards producing workable harvesting quotas. Key role players were simply not appointed, law enforcement was understaffed and equipment like patrol boats was not available. At one stage, the Directorate of Fisheries had no fewer than nine deputy directors in two years. Protecting abalone became an impossible task. The highly successful Green Court was established in 2003, only to be disbanded in 2007, which can only be ascribed to political incompetence and corruption.
In spite of the inefficient law enforcement, poaching is dangerous, not only from a legal perspective, but also thanks to dangers inherent in the environment where the poacher operates – with hunting sharks, strong currents, rough seas and faulty equipment that regularly take the lives of the less experienced.
One might say abalone poaching is a perfect demonstration of the application of the tragedy of the commons. The expedition to Morocco is a textbook example of the scattering of a diaspora from the original population. The Hong Kong market must be one of the oldest abalone markets in the world, and the reader is given a fascinating insight into the workings of that global marketplace.
Then, there is the human side – Shuhood and his two wives and seven children. Two of his children he saw for the first time in jail, something which has bugged him most of his life. He claims his life was a constant battle to make ends meet, in spite of earning up to R25 000 some days. He regrets that except for the one-bedroom apartment that his family lives in, he has pretty little to show for an effort that lasted more than 25 years.
It seems to the reader that, after all, his most valuable possession is his horse.
Where does this leave the abalone resource?
In spite of the Minister stating in 2008 that the harvesting of wild abalone can no longer be justified, poaching continues to take its toll. Through all kinds of ecological interactions, abalone has found itself in a new, stable state, from which it will slowly reinhabit areas that have been denuded. This much was made clear by the poachers, revisiting old dive sites. His complicity in this destruction caused massive guilt in Shuhood. With it has come the realisation that they collectively are responsible for the collapse of an industry and a resource that many communities depended on.
Was it worth it? Common to most poachers is the constant worry about getting caught, and spending time in jail nags them until it is over.
What did he gain? Shuhood wanted to tell his story, which he did, sweeping the reader along on his roller-coaster ride, creating insight and understanding of a complex socio-ecological issue.
He wanted to experience and show remorse. Perhaps the message of this book will make people believe the tragedy of the commons. Congratulate him for having the guts to speak out, allowing the reader into closely guarded corners of his life.
- Johan Fourie is author of the book Op die spoor van die perlemoenstropers.