Paternoster, where the mafia rules

paternoster beach

Paternoster bills itself as a picturesque sleepy seaside village where you can enjoy a quiet weekend and eat good seafood.

What is really is, is a hellhole of petty crime, corruption, exploitation and poaching.

A few years ago a few of us had a weekend spoilt by a burglary. Trying to get cops to investigate (and follow the clear trail of clues that we showed them) was futile and we were subsequently told by several people that since the local fishermen’s quotas have been reduced they’ve turned to crime and drugs. The mafia that controls the poaching is a menace and even the cops are terrified of them. The cops are not even based in the village but are in the next town.

When I had to go there this week with clients it was my first trip back and I was looking forward to it; I wanted to be proved wrong about the toxicity of this little town because everyone raves about how cute and lovely it is. I thought things had improved – after all, intelligent people are loving it, right?

It is worse than ever.

Despite the crayfish season being closed there were poachers selling them all over the village. My guesthouse hosts told me that petty crime has soared but local holiday accommodation owners and greedy agents refuse to speak of it (we already experienced this a few years ago). They also told me of houses being built on the beach, on the watermark which means they will one day wash away, and fishermen access to the beach is being closed off so they, the fishermen, creep in at night and destroy all the day’s construction. Who approves these projects?

There is still no police station, not even a satellite office, and no patrols. Attempts to get the municipality to address this has met with threats from the mafiosi who control the poaching and most people have backed off as a result of fear for their properties. I heard of kitesurfers being harassed/chased off the beach by gangs in bakkies. To put it bluntly, there is no law and order whatsoever. If socially-conscious people boycotted the village by no longer going there, the locals would be quick to band together to effectively deal with the crime and corruption.

Paternoster is one of the last surviving fishing villages where the fishermen live in their original houses cheek by jowl with holiday makers. But this is not lasting because they are made offers on their homes that they cannot refuse, they then buy a house in the next town where they can get work, or not, and soon find themselves unable to pay rates and taxes. Their new homes are repossessed and they are worse off than ever. A 5 star boutique hotel at over R3000 a night is next to the poorest of the poor who cannot afford a loaf of bread, of course the hotel has tight 24/7 security.

I was glad this time to be staying slightly out of town on a hill, far from the crime, but my seafood supper left a bitter taste and I won’t be back in a hurry.

There were DA election posters all over town promising jobs.  They could start by installing an honest council.

I took no photos of Paternoster this week – these are from the previous visit.

paternoster boats

Pretty, isn’t it? During the burglary weekend we stayed in one of those little houses. Fair game for the thieves.


All these small boats belong to small-time fishermen who are exploited by mafiosi-types. A boat with only one crew member returns with a catch of enough crayfish to warrant 10+ permits. The mafiosi-types wait on the beach for the return, in their suits and BMWs. Well-heeled visitors from town buy the poached crayfish, with or without knowledge. Would they even care?

paternoster house

This run-down house is now a restaurant but a few years ago we found traces of our belongings here yet the cops refused to approach it, even when full of dodgy types hanging around.

About Francoise Armour

I run a small touring company (Tours du Cap) at the bottom of Africa, to show visitors the beauty and vibrant culture of the country I have lived in since my parents brought me here from France as a child. I enjoy taking photos and wish I had learnt to do it properly. I enjoy writing but don't do enough of it. I enjoy walking in the mountains that surround me and I marvel over the views and the flowers and the amazing rock formations. I have a small, cute, clever, black dog of indeterminable breed, named Vida, who reminds me regularly that walking and getting out is not only for when tourists want it.

6 responses to “Paternoster, where the mafia rules

  1. Pingback: The mafia, the ghost and the garden | A pic a day from the Cape

  2. Ruben nel

    I just came back from Paternoster after spending a weeknd their celebrating a friend’s birthday. While we all were asleep upstairs and one female friend on the couch downstairs we were burgeled. A coloured man threatend her and warned her he will shoot her if she does not hand over her wallet. He kicked down a glass door after she went histericall and escaped with two iPhones. Somethings needs to be done before this pretty place goes down the drain

    • Good grief, that’s even worse than our experience – at least we were unaware of what was happening.
      The problem is so complex in that small town. The gentrification has added to the problems already created by diminishing fishing quotas and general poverty. Hope you are all okay now – make sure your friend gets at least one trauma counselling session.

  3. It sounds like a microcosm of some Coastal Somali communities who turned to piracy when their fishing livelihoods were wrecked by the international market.
    What a pity this has happened to such a beautiful spot. I haven’t visited for a long time and think I’ll keep my memories of 30 years ago intact, by not going back.

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A note to all accidental visitors:

I am not a photographer and do not claim to have any particular skills whatsoever in that department. I have enormous respect for those who can see the potential in a scene and can create a great photo. Good photography is an art, in my opinion.

I am just a happy snapper, I have no special lenses or accessories, my camera is very simple and it's usually best to leave the setting on auto.

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