Menka Vansant

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Small-scale fisheries, just energy transitions, ocean economic development, climate change, emerging technology and innovation

AFFILIATION: University of Cape Town (South Africa)

My research focuses on conflicts between small-scale fishers and offshore oil and gas development along the West Coast, as well as an analysis of South Africa’s ocean economic development activities in light of the Just Energy Transition Plan (JETP), climate change agreements, and historic issues that stem from the mining sector due to colonialism and Apartheid. I assist coastal communities with understanding environmental impacts of mega-infrastructure energy development and advocate for decarbonisation strategies, nature-based solutions, and pathways to achieving a just energy transition that does not displace or further exclude historically marginalised communities.


Small-scale fishers in South Africa have been fighting for justice for many, many years, long before I embarked on my PhD journey. What I love about working at the University of Cape Town and through the One Ocean Hub is that the research is centred around meaningful impact, policymaking, and human rights frameworks. At the beginning of my PhD, the small-scale fishing communities brought Shell, Searcher, the Department of Forest, Fisheries & the Environment, and the Department of Mineral Resources & Energy to court due to the lack of meaningful consultation and inadequate consideration of their right to a clean and healthy environment, the impact on the climate, and their livelihood. It was a very powerful moment in which historically marginalised people took on “Goliath,” and exemplified that the ocean was not only a place that they depend on for food and nutritional security and an economic livelihood, but also a space that holds spiritual and cultural significance, which often does not appear in environmental and social impact assessments.

While litigation is not the be-all-end-all strategy for creating impact in small-scale fishing communities, it certainly influenced increased efforts of the government and private sector to consult with these coastal communities, although it continues to remain a top-down process. Lastly, my advisor, Merle Sowman, and I conducted mapping activities to better understand critical fishing areas as there is little to no data as to where small-scale fishers operate, what species they catch, and other significant cultural areas. We created heatmaps of where they catch various species along with a written narrative that showcases why they are restricted to fishing in specific places. For example, fuel costs and small, two-man boats, as well as prohibited access from diamond mining areas present challenges to the fishers in the Northern Cape. This data can be taken to the government and diamond mining companies to challenge them on certain rules and restrictions that are prohibiting them from fishing in their traditional areas.  

Making waves

Menka was interviewed on the New Ventures podcast on her dissertation research ‘Economic resilience or food security? – Small Fishers at risk’ – listen to podcast here >>

Recent publication

Our mapping publication on Port Nolloth will be published in a few more months.

Artwork: Margherita Brunori / Banner Photo: Nessim Stevenson