A charismatic abalone poacher. A dead son. A broken love story.

Three storylines bound together by a single theme: the curse of the abalone. Abalone is an endangered marine snail that’s prized as an aphrodisiac and status symbol in China, but illegal harvesting has disastrous consequences for the traditional fishing community of Hawston near Cape Town in South Africa. ‘Between the Devil and the Deep’ offers a moving glimpse into the hearts and lives of three mixed-race families in a traditional fishing community that’s suspended in a limbo between traditional lifestyle, daily survival and the trappings of a corrupt and brutal enforcement apparatus, which has left countless victims in its wake. The film follows the protagonists in their community, on land, on sea, and underwater, as they tread the thin line between survival and destruction, life and death: of the abalone, and of the people. The film includes going out with abalone poachers in shark-infested waters, a high-speed chase at sea, and intimate and touching moments with the main characters.


Sherman Pharo

Sherman (35), a charismatic adventurer and modern sea wolf, does his best to fulfil the demands of his wife, Evangeline, and their middle-class existence. But Sherman truly thrives on the adrenaline rush and occasional jackpot that comes with the dangerous job of abalone (pearly) poaching; which often involves high-speed boat chases at sea, police detention and beatings. Sherman has the sea in his blood, he’s one of the best divers on the South African coastline, and he loves doing what he does best: pearly poaching.

Staggie and Ellen

Staggie (40) and Ellen (30) have been blessed with another boy four years after losing their first-born son to cot death. After the death of his first boy, Staggie - a small-time pearly poacher and former gangster - descended into the hell of crystal meth (tik) addiction. Ellen waits at home every day, nurturing her ‘second blessing’, mourning her dying love for Staggie and plotting her exit from a broken love story.

Tim and Genine

Tim (54) and Genine (50) are still seeking justice and closure 18 months after their only son, Steven, was purportedly killed at sea by police while poaching abalone to put food on his family’s table. Steven’s death was the cruel destruction of a father’s dreams for his son. The bereaved, but driven mother, Genine, spends every waking hour in pursuit of justice in the Post-Apartheid society where power is defined by capital, and “Coloured” (mixed-race) people have been written off as third-class citizens.


Director: Heinrich Dahms

Producer: Michele Aime

Camera: Johan Bosgraaf

Editor: Heinrich Dahms

Sound: Peter Suyderhoud & Raf Enckels

Editor: Heinrich Dahms

Genre: Documentary

Duration: 93 minutes

Language: Afrikaans with English & Dutch subtitles

Format: (DCP) 2.35:1 with 5.1 Surround Sound

Current status: Completed

Release: 2015


Co-producers: VisualAntics (Belgium) / Evangelische Omroep (NL)

Funding: Netherlands Film Fund, Flemish Audiovisual Fund, CoBOfonds

Distributor (Benelux): Amstelfilm (

Target Audience: Art-house audiences with interest in poetic character-driven narrative cinema, marginal communities and the environment.



(Perlemoen / Ormeau / Seeohre)

“Hurib Gaes” is the native Nama word for abalone or perlemoen (from the Dutch word, Paarlemoer, meaning Mother-of-pearl, thanks to the pearly quality of the inner shell). Perlemoen is a large, flat marine snail with a shell length of up to 230mm that lives in shallow seawater and takes seven to nine years to mature. It has a lifespan of 30 years or longer. Haliotis midae was endemic to several hundred kilometres of South African coastline stretching from Table Bay to the Eastern Cape before over-exploitation threatened it with extinction.


For generations, the mixed-race community of Hawston has eked out a living as fishermen on the rugged Cape coast of South Africa; but today the community is in danger of cultural and economic rupture due to a political conflict driven by the demand, in China, for an endangered marine snail that the Chinese prize as an aphrodisiac.


The village of Hawston is a traditional ‘Coloured’ fishing community on the picturesque Overberg coast east of Cape Town. The rugged coastline is also the breeding ground of an endangered marine snail, Haliotis midae, commonly known as abalone or perlemoen.


Hawston’s mixed-race population are the descendants of the Khoisan tribe that originally populated this coast, and the early Dutch settlers. Their mother tongue, Afrikaans, is a singsong variation of Old Dutch. The people of Hawston believe they have an inalienable right to continue - as their ancestors had done for centuries - to harvest the natural resources that “God gave them”. If necessary, they would be prepared to stand up and die to take back their daily bread.


In recent years, due to the combined effects of a long recession, work scarcity, commercial overfishing and environmental legislation, the community has begun to rely on abalone poaching as a principal means of survival. The demand for abalone is driven in China, where it is prized as a delicacy and aphrodisiac. Recently, in an effort to save the species from extinction, the government imposed a total ban on illegal abalone harvesting with a strict ‘shoot-to-kill’ enforcement policy. As a result, the ‘abalone trade’ has become a high-stakes, multimillion-dollar black-market racket run by Chinese crime syndicates, corrupt government officials and local gangs that trade abalone for drugs and guns. The effects of substance abuse and violence have begun to tear the community apart. Abalone has become a symbol of that which is threatening the community from the outside and destroying lives from within. The million-dollar question is: Who faces the gravest threat: the abalone or Hawston’s unique community?

(21 minutes)

A short documentary about Hawston, its people and its perlemoen (abalone) made with footage shot during a research trip to South Africa in October 2010.

The Prophet, The People and the Perlemoen


Three interwoven stories about a fishing community suspended in a limbo between their traditional lifestyle, daily survival and the trappings of a corrupt and brutal enforcement apparatus that has left countless victims in its wake.

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