Issue No. 42
National Environmental Management Bill
21 August 1998
Under Apartheid the environment was considered secondary to development and making profits. The National Party Government was reckless, irresponsible and shortsighted in dealing with environmental development issues. The ANC Government believes that development must be sustainable in order to meet the needs of the people without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The National Environmental Management Bill proves that the ANC is conscientious, responsible and pro-active in moving away from the perceived conflict between development and conservation. For the ANC, development means that economic progress and protecting our natural resources cannot be separated.
From Past to Present
- The ANC believes that environmental development must be handled in an integrated way because all aspects of the environment are linked. In the past environmental development was disorganized because the NP failed to understand, or care, that development needed a holistic, broad and all-inclusive approach.
- Environmental justice must be ensured so that the effects of development should not unfairly discriminate against any person or group, especially disadvantaged people. For the NP development was about making money, raping natural resources and making profit for rich, white businesses. This Bill will ensure that everyone benefits from the effects of development in a just way, in line with the ANC’s commitment to equity and justice.
- Equal access to environmental resources, benefits and services must be ensured to meet basic human needs, with special measures to ensure that disadvantaged people have access. This is in complete contrast to the National Party Government’s policy of deliberately excluding disadvantaged people from access to our natural resources and the benefits that are derive from it. The NP environment policy sought to unfairly enrich whites and unfairly impoverish blacks.
- All people, especially disadvantaged people, must have equal opportunity to understand and have the skills and capacity to participate effectively in matters that affect their environment,. Under Apartheid, the majority of people in South Africa were denied any chance to gain the necessary insight or skills to take part in their environment.
- Environment decisions must recognise the interests, needs and values of all concerned, recognising traditional and ordinary knowledge. Access to information must be open and transparent. The environment is no longer a whites only reserve. The ANC Government is committed to bringing change to all aspects of life, including access to education and training, knowledge and understanding in the field of environmental development.
- Policies and legislation must be coordinated at all levels of government and conflicts between departments must be resolved through appropriate conflict resolution procedures. Most of the problems of environmental mismanagement under NP rule arose from the lack of coordination where one department never knew what happened in another department: another key feature of Apartheid planning and management that was left to the ANC Government to change.
- Environmental resources must be held in public trust, serve the public interest and be protected as the people’s common inheritance. The ANC Government will no longer allow natural resources to belong to rich individuals or companies only, because it is discriminatory and dis-empowering. South Africa’s natural beauty will from now on be the property of all its people.
- This Bill will ensure that industries that pollute our water supplies, destroy our natural beauty and put the health of workers and communities at risk will now be forced to clean up their mess and if they won’t do this they will have to pay for the costs of repairing the damages.
- The right of workers to refuse to do work that is harmful to the environment or people’s health must be respected. The Bill goes beyond the fundamental rights of workers. Workers have the right to know that certain work will damage the environment and people’s health. They then have the right to decide, on the basis of their knowledge, whether they will do that kind of work.
- Because of South Africa’s history of abuse and discrimination against its most disadvantaged people it was always easy for big business and foreign organisations to dump toxic waste here without punishment. Poor communities have never had the chance to speak out against the pollution they had to endure, and which caused the death of many people, at the hands of big business. The most important element contained in the Bill is that it enables all people to take those companies and people to court. The Bill will ensure that vulnerable communities and their environment are fully protected by law.
What is Required for Sustainable Development?
- That people are regarded as an integral part of the environment and that their participation in the decision making on matters concerning the environment is essential, guaranteed and protected.
- That the negative impacts on the environment or people’s environmental rights be anticipated and prevented.
- That waste is avoided and that re-use, recycling or responsible disposal is encouraged.
- That cultural heritage sites are respected.
- That pollution and disturbance of the environment are avoided or minimised.
Getting the Stakeholders Involved
- The Minister will establish a National Environmental Forum, that is representative of all interested and affected people, to guide him on the views of the people at grassroots level. The Forum will also assist with setting and achieving objectives and priorities identified for environmental management.
- The Bill will establish a Committee for Environmental Coordination to integrate and coordinate the disorganised performance by the various government departments in implementing environmental policies. It will create a single point in provinces to process applications for licences and deal with other administrative functions. The Committee will be made up of Director-Generals of various departments. The Minister will allow organisations and representatives from local government to sit on the Committee.
Empowering the People
The National Environmental Management Bill is a framework for environmental management which empowers people. It provides a foundation for people to have a say in how their environment is managed and to participate effectively and benefit from it on an equal basis.
Future legislation will further strengthen the capacity the Government to ensure that our natural resources are managed in such a way that current and future generations benefit.
The Bill tackles the effects of the shortsighted planning, ill-considered management and exclusive participation under Apartheid with insight, understanding and focus. It recognises the right of people to be part of their environment, participate in the processes of their environment and be protected in the same way as their environment.
The Bill will reverse the effects of the NP’s incompetent environmental management.