According to the Bill of Rights, which is contained in Chapter 2 of the 1996 Constitution, everyone has the right to
- an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being
- have the environment protected, for the benefit of the present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that
- prevent pollution and ecological degradation
- promote conservation
- secure ecological sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
Conservation in South Africa is the responsibility of various government institutions. At central government level, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is the central policy-formulating and coordinating body. Other organizations involved at this level are, for instance, the Departments of Agriculture; Water Affairs and Forestry; Minerals and Energy, and Health as well as local authorities. At regional level, the provincial conservation agencies are major role-players while independent statutory organizations such as the National Parks Board and the National Botanical Gardens are valuable partners in the total conservation effort.
Conservation is defined by the International Conservation Union (UCN) as management of the human use of the biosphere to yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present and future generations. Conservation thus embraces development, but only if development is undertaken in a responsible manner so that nature can be maintained for sustainable use.
Despite the devolution of many conservation functions to provincial government level, the conservation of large areas of state and privately-owned land is still coordinated by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, and the Chief Directorate: Forestry of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. This implies overall coordination of nature conservation; management of conservation areas (including indigenous forests, drift sands and mountain catchment areas); administration of legislation; controlling veld fires; protection of rare plants; promotion of tree-planting and tree conservation; outdoor recreation in state forests; control of invader species; coastal conservation; conservation and utilization of marine life; and conservation measures in the environment created by human beings, including pollution and development control. South Africa is developing its national environmental policy through a consultative process known as the Consultative National Environmental Policy Process (CONNEPP).
A discussion document on the environment was released in April 1996. The document, entitled Towards a New Environmental Policy for South Africa, recommends a “proactive approach” in terms of which action will be taken on possible environmental threats even when there “was no clear supporting evidence”. The main proposal contained in the document is the establishment of a new independent Commission for the Environment or an Environmental Protection Agency to receive and review objections, initiative investigations and be responsible for reviewing state environmental audits. The document also identifies root causes of South Africa’s current environmental problems; the non-cooperation of environmental regulatory institutions; unsustainable levels of exploitation of natural resources unequal access to natural resources often forcing human migration and overcrowding; damaged social structures and poor “dispossessed people” and inappropriate and uncontrolled development in most sectors.
The Green Paper entitled Environmental Policy for South Africa was released in October 996. The Green Paper concerns itself with general policy based on economic development and sustainability of environmental resources. The Paper indicates that there are many area which the Government needs to address in its environmental policy. These include, among others, improved pollution and waste control; focusing on people and their participation in environmental decision-making employs an integrated and macroeconomic perspective.
The purpose of the Green Paper is to provide a basis for developing environmental policy which will lead South Africa along the path of sustainable development and ensure that all South Africans, both now and in the future, will have an environment which always caters for their well-being.
The Green Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biological Diversity was published in October 1996. A discussion document was circulated earlier the year and a national conference was held in May 1996. The policy approaches contained in the Green Paper spell out a vision for South Africa which reconciles the country’s sometimes conflicting goals of development and conservation, and which requires all people and organizations to take responsibility for ensuring that the country’s natural heritage is maintained for future generations.
An essential part of these approaches will require a commitment form each government department to develop a biodiversity plan, and for sectors outside of government to take up the challenge of making the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity a core element of their policies, programs and actions.
- conserve the diversity of landscapes, ecosystems, habitats, populations, species and genes in South Africa
- use biological resources sustainably and minimize adverse impacts on biological diversity
- ensure the benefits derived from the use and development of South Africa’s genetic resources serve national interests
- expand the human capacity to conserve biodiversity, to manage its use, and to address factors threatening it
- create conditions and incentives that support the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity at the international level.
A draft White Paper on Fisheries in South Africa was presented to the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in December 1996.Return to Top