/ 5 April 2004

Valli Moosa looks back

How far have we come?

In the pre-1994 period there were various NGOs in the country that were interested in environmental issues. The big difference post-1994 was the inclusion of the environment in the Constitution. The Constitution required the environment to be mainstreamed. The big challenge was how to go about this and not leave it to a small group of ‘do-gooders”. We were fortunate that within the African National Congress concern for the environment had been reasonably strong. The ANC is always ready to support the right thing as far as environmental protection is concerned, even if it doesn’t always spend a great deal of time on the matter.

That made possible the National Environmental Management Act (Nema). I think that was the big achievement of the first term of government in respect to legislation. Although then South Africa was not part of the global sustainable development movement, because the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 had taken place prior to our democratisation, through the Nema process – which took a few years in Parliament – Agenda 21 was introduced into the political discourse in Parliament and won a great deal of support.

Subsequently there has been legislation in a number of different fields and it is still going on. We have not completed establishing a body of law that provides adequately for the protection of the environment, but we are already further ahead than most other countries in a short space of time.

When it comes to public engagement and the involvement of the public, I would say part of the democratic expression that we have had in this country has resulted in a bigger voice being given to members of the public and NGOs in matters relating to the environment. This happened through a whole range of events, but also because we were hosts of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

There were also a number of high-profile measures taken by the government that captured the public imagination and made people think about the environment, like the transfrontier conservation initiatives, the whale sanctuary in Walker Bay, the restrictions on plastic bags, restrictions on 4X4 driving, strong measures against poachers and most recently the establishment of the so-called ‘green Scorpions”.

All of that has captured the imagination of the general public and especially young people, which has resulted in a substantial environmental movement. Even some of the big CEOs of companies that have bad environmental practices have said to me that they get a great deal of uphill from their children at home. So the message has gone out to people.

South Africa has been able to find a way of creating the right balance between development and protecting the environment. We are a developing country, we need to create jobs and to do this we need more construction, more roads, factories, etc. We have the challenge of doing that without sacrificing the environment. We have to put into practice the principles of sustainable development on a daily balance.

I believe we have found a happy medium, together with a great deal of public participation and media interest – as we have in the debate around the proposed N2 toll road.

Presumably, and I am still in the process of studying all the submissions that have been made to me, the Department of Transport has a need for a better transport system in that part of the world and has a need for motor vehicles and trucks to be able to move more efficiently. I’m assuming there is a need for greater capacity. Why else would one want a road?

On the other hand there is the concern of environmentalists about the impact it will have on what is a sensitive ecological area. And then there are other concerns about paying toll fees, and the concerns of those who are presently making a livelihood along the old road.

The process is more than adequate to ensure that the right thing gets done: the South African National Roads Agency, which is the arm of the Department of Transport that is the developer of the road, is required in terms of the law to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA). Then the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (Deat) decides whether or not to give environmental approval. It’s important to note that Deat doesn’t give approval of other things, like whether it should be a toll road or not.

If the department is satisfied on the basis of the EIA and whatever it may have required the roads agency to do – for example, when it encounters a rare plant species in the course of building the road, as has been done in this case – it gives a record of decision.

In the event, as is the case now, that people are unhappy with the decision, they have the opportunity to appeal to the minister and to give reasons why the decision should be overturned. The minister has the power to overturn the decision of the department. In this case the appeal period was extended for 30 days until the end of January.

I am required to look at these appeals in good faith and see whether there are good enough reasons for me to overturn the decision of the department.

If you decide to overturn the department’s decision, what are the consequences?

I could do one of two things. If I overturn the decision, then that’s that, they can’t proceed. Anybody could go to the court then and appeal to the court to overturn my decision. On the other hand, if I uphold the decision of the department, then that can also be challenged in court.

There are various options. In the case of the Coega development, the department gave a record of decision that was highly conditional. I am assuming that if permission is given for the N2 toll road in Pondoland it will also be conditional, it is unlikely that unconditional permission will be given.

Coega had a long list of conditions. The Coega Development Corporation appealed against the decision of the department, saying the conditions were too onerous and made the project impossible. Some environmental organisations also appealed. In the end, in the appeal, my decision was to vary the conditions, which I think satisfied most people in the end, because nobody decided to challenge my decision in court.

We’ve got a good system, because in the end if people think the minister was prejudiced, they can go to the courts.

There has been speculation that you are leaving the ministry because of the Pondoland debacle. Development of a Pondoland national park was one of your pet projects.

No, that is not the reason I am leaving. If you are the environment minister, you will always be faced with difficult issues and they have to be dealt with in one way or another. You will be criticised, whichever way your decision goes. I have never been too worried about that, I have always done what I think is the right thing.

The Wild Coast spatial development initiative fell under my department, in a joint project with the Eastern Cape province. I still hope that the Pondoland national park will be established one day. It is something that I think we all wanted to happen earlier, and it could have happened.

If mining is to happen there, whether it will affect these plans for a Pondoland national park depends on where the mining happens and to what extent. I am on record as saying I am opposed to mining, but suppose the mining does happen, I don’t think we should throw our hands up and rule out the possibility of a national park.

I think that a park must happen on the Wild Coast, just because it is so special – if for no other reason, then because it is a place of spiritual heritage and it should be under protection. For the long term ecotourism is one of the best forms of sustainable development that we can have in that area.

We don’t even know if mining will happen there. What I am quite certain about, and I will look at all the appeals properly, is that nobody has put any evidence before me to indicate that the mine and the proposed N2 toll road are directly related to each other. I am sure that if you have a road it creates all sorts of possibilities, but I would be very surprised if the Department of Transport decided on this road because some people want to mine the dunes. Over the years everything that I have heard about this road, the motivations, have never come across in that way.

Is it possible to wrap up the Pondoland debacle before you leave the ministry?

That depends on the nature of the appeals. If it goes to court action, then it would be passed on to the incoming minister.

Can you list the successes and failures of your tenure as minister?

One of the very big achievements has been the progress we have made on transfrontier conservation areas and parks. That was nothing more than a dream; most people thought it was not do-able, that it would not happen, that it was not possible to get a country like South Africa to willingly take down that big fence along the border with Mozambique, that you would not be able to get countries across the border to agree with each other.

It wasn’t easy, it was extremely difficult, partly because not many people thought that it would happen. It’s a big achievement and something I am very proud of, because it’s a qualitative thing, it’s really a breakthrough and it’s something that will continue to happen and gain momentum.

One of the transfrontier parks that will be created in the future is the Limpopo-Sashe park on the borders between Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

We’ve also had a possible impact on the rest of Africa and on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad). Transfrontier parks are now mentioned in the Nepad programme and are an integral part of the African development programme.

Another important thing is we have been able to show that job creation and conservation or wildlife protection do not have to be in conflict, but can complement each other. Conservation creates jobs and socio-economic upliftment.

The South African ecotourism model is one that is respected in many parts of the world. Sometimes it has to be, but in general it’s not, a case of doing conservation at the expense of providing for the needs of poor people; rather it is a case of providing for the needs of poor people through conservation.

I have recently been approached by people in India and Iran with requests to send some of their experts out to South Africa, especially after the World Parks Congress, because they want to replicate our ecotourism model. They feel that there’s something they can learn from South Africa.

I think this is an important development so that everybody supports conservation and nobody is opposed to it – all levels of society, all the political parties, everybody in Parliament. There needs to be consensus in society about this.

On the other hand, what we have not achieved is to get significant numbers of black people to enjoy the parks and visit the parks. Steps that have been taken to tackle this include not increasing the price of entry to the parks to an unaffordable level. So we have the dual entrance-fee system where South Africans pay a reduced rate according to the Wild Card system. But in spite of that, by and large, when it comes to South Africans it is mainly white people who go to the parks. This needs more attention in the future.

Another achievement concerns waste management. There was a time when our cities and towns were just getting dirtier and dirtier. There was a great deal of interaction with municipalities and cities about their responsibility in this regard. We also launched the Cleanest Town campaign in order to motivate municipalities to try to do better. This campaign is not very big, but it certainly has had the impact of getting cities and towns to make themselves cleaner.

The plastic bag regulations have had a great impact on this. Our towns and countryside are a little cleaner than they were a few years ago – not clean enough, but a little cleaner. I am happy that we have gone in the right direction by arresting the problem. The feedback that we have been getting from everybody is that there is a discernible difference in the amount of litter that you can see around.

Another thing that needs work is the ideology of environmental NGOs. We have a mixed bag of people involved in protection of the environment in South Africa.

In Europe, for example, you would find that it is generally the left who are involved in environmental protection and it’s generally the right, like the Republicans in the US, who would oppose protection in favour of laissez-faire capitalism, leading to the kind of thinking that made George W Bush say he would pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. In general, you find the left are more pro-environmental protection and sustainable development, the right wing against it.

In South Africa we have a strange situation in that in a number of local areas the right wing are the environmental people and often this is the case because of the Nimby (not in my back yard) syndrome. They want to prevent, for instance, the development of low-cost housing in their neighbourhood or town and they do this in the name of the environment.

I’ve come across a number of instances where local councillors have reached a point where they consider environmental protection an issue that needs to be fought, because the kind of person who doesn’t want any development latches on to the environmental measures. It’s a rather perverse thing to do because it undermines the cause with the majority of South Africans.

What do you plan to do when you are no longer the minister?

The department has nominated me for presidency of IUCN-The World Conservation Union and I have accepted the nomination. But that is a non-executive post, it’s not an occupation or a job. Other people from around the world will also be nominated and there will be a vote.

How do we take sustainable development and environmental concerns forward after the 2004 elections?

There is a great deal of work that still needs to be done. One of the areas concerns compliance and monitoring. It’s one thing to have laws and regulations, but there needs to be more compliance and the wrongdoers need to be brought to book. That is happening, but not sufficiently, especially when it comes to industries that are causing air pollution.

The second big area where work will have to continue is recycling. There is a growing awareness of the need for re-use and recycling, but it can happen on a much bigger scale. We have to reach a point where we are able to say that a substantial proportion of waste is being recycled and not going to landfill sites. It is important that a target should be set.

We need to start taking a more serious look at greenhouse gas emissions. South Africa does not have any obligations in terms of the Kyoto Protocol now, but it will in the future. In any case we have a responsibility to reduce and limit emissions.

The Department of Minerals and Energy has laid a good basis with the White Paper on renewable energy, but the process must be encouraged. The energy issue is something that must be looked at very closely. A proper plan needs to be developed to meet the country’s energy needs in 10 years’ or 20 years’ time.

We’ll need more energy then than we need now, but we need to work out how we can do that and at the same time reduce our greenhouse gases. That is the challenge. We have ideas, but I don’t think we have a plan. That plan will have to be worked out and there will have to be consensus around it.

As far as conservation is concerned, the implementation of a bio-regional approach will probably happen more systematically over the next few years. Implementing conservation in a manner that does not limit you to the boundaries of a park, because biodiversity exists outside parks also and to protect biodiversity there is no good reason to limit yourself to the borders of a park – that’s the beauty of the bio-regional approach, and I think it will grow.

There will be new legislation in the next year or two for the protection of the coastline. This is in the pipeline and it is important for the regulation of the use of the coastal zone, which so far has been regulated in a rather fragmented manner. Parts of the coastline have more or less been privatised by landowners and by developers.