Cage-diving entities exposed to financial ruin18 July 2011. Anna Majavu, Times Live.
Directors of black-owned Great White Shark cage-diving companies say they’re losing their life savings they invested in their businesses because the government hasn’t given them the permits it promised.
Cage diving – in which divers are lowered into the water inside protective cages to observe the predators in their natural habitat – is a growing tourist industry in the Western Cape that generates over R30-million per year for its operators.
When the government began regulating the industry in 2008, it said transformation was a priority and that “when considering permit applications, [the government] will give preference to the applicant whose operation will have the biggest impact in terms of transformation and black economic empowerment”.
But three companies with BEE credentials accuse Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa of leaving them in financial limbo after delaying her decision on whether to grant them permits or not.
The companies applied for permits almost two years ago, and then tabled their appeals against the original decisions last year. Razeena Omar, the department’s chief director of integrated coastal management, told them in a letter in December last year that the department would “finalise appeal recommendations to the minister in January 2011”.
But since then, the company directors say they have heard nothing from the government. Molewa’s spokesman, Mandla Mathebula, said people should not blame the minister.
“The process is finished except for one of the approvals and we don’t feel it is taking too long. [The department] must analyse the information that they have found and make a submission to the minister. They haven’t made the submission yet,” he said. He could not say when the companies would hear whether they had been granted permits or not.
According to an internal department score sheet, Stephen Swanson, director of the 40% black-owned False Bay White Shark Adventures, scored the highest out of the six operators which applied for permits in the False Bay area, and was given the nod for a permit.
Sammy Brett, director of the 100% black-owned Innoflex/Great White Explorers, was also awarded a permit.
Swanson said there are only two months left in the False Bay shark season and if he doesn’t get his permit now, his business will be put on hold until next year.
Sizwe Kweyama and Robert Pace, who jointly own the 50% black-owned Evening Star Trading company, scored higher than the only other company applying for a permit in Mossel Bay, but were unsuccessful.
The government’s decision on the appeals affects all companies, not just those who lost out as all permits are on hold until a final decision is made.
Said Pace: “Our company is bleeding financially. We stuck to the criteria, we were successful, but we are still sitting here.”
Added Kweyama: “The big question is: why can’t blacks be in this industry?”
Said Brett: “I’m an ANC member. I don’t want a back-hand favour, all I want is a legal permit. I’ve met the criteria but they have never come back to me.”
Swanson claimed Molewa was delaying finalising the permits because she had been threatened with lawsuits by the mainly white companies who had been operating since 1991.
Mathebula denied this, but said the department had to make sure its decisions were “legally defensible”. There are currently only 12 operators in the province, many of whom have been in the business since 1991. Because they started operating before the government began regulating the industry, they don’t have permits but use an exemption from the department which is renewed every year.