Tjaart de Beer

South Africa is not only culturally rich and diverse, but also has a unique and varied abundance of fauna and flora. The month of June is National Environment Month, with 5 June as World Environment Day.[1]

Currently, our country is confronted with an array of environmental challenges, from, in my opinion, the worst droughts the Western Cape Province has ever seen, to flash floods occurring after strange and heavy winter rain fall in the Gauteng and North West Provinces with incidents of drowning as a result. The two examples might be significant from a humanitarian point of view, but how does the law have an impact on any environmental issues?

In instances where floods devours houses, especially in informal settlements, it is clear that there is a disregard for the municipal by-laws and regulations in relation to flood line limitations set for this very reason, to prevent floods from destroying houses built within these determinations.

There is also the basic human right to clean water, which is translated into the free allocation of 6 kilolitres of water per household per month.[2]  Put into perspective, 1 kilolitre is equal to 1000 litres.  An estimated 80 litres of water is used to have a shower or, by flushing a toilet one uses up to 6 to 12 litres per flush.  With the level 4 water restriction implemented in Cape Town, earlier in the year, a maximum of 100 litres per person per day recommendation was introduced.[3]  So, the question beacons to be asked, how could we demand our “free” water if there is not enough to go around?  In this instance, the limitation of rights[4] may be relevant, as provided for by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

One area that has a big impact on the environment is the mining sector. “The Chamber of Mines and its members are committed to various multilateral agreements with Government with the ultimate goal to realise a more environmentally balanced future through the Sustainable Development Goals.[5]  Apart from the mining legislation playing a role in the regulation of the way in which mines deal with the delicate environment, there are internal movements to promote sustainability.

The aforementioned are both elements of the holistic environment we live in. There are the results of global warming on the one hand and the economical presence of mining companies on the other. As stated on the website of the Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa is a “highly energy-intensive economy” which leads to extremely high levels of emissions of greenhouse gasses.[6]

Coal, a product of mining, is heavily relied upon as an energy source and therefore the supply and demand thereof is constantly at play, despite the impact that it may have on the environment. Transgressions are to be combatted with the National Environmental Management Act No. 107 of 1998, as amended, by having Environmental Impact Assessments (“EIA”) as a tool in determining the actual impact of any, in this case mining, activity will have of the environment which is still in its natural form. EIA’s are also required when permission for housing developments are to be applied for at a municipality.

Therefore, apart from the never-ending conversations we could have over the environment and how it is being destroyed by our actions, there is legislation in place to best protect and regulate our impact, but, as was the topic in the February 2018 issue of The Litigo, it remains our, the inhabitants’, responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle in every possible way. Sometimes it takes a negative incident to generate a positive outcome, as was the case with the water issue in the Western Cape. Many innovative solutions emerged from fellow South Africans in an attempt to add to conservation and being more environmentally friendly and considerate. What is your solution to conserve and save the environment?

[1]  http://www.chamberofmines.org.za/special-features/121-national-environment-month (Date visited: 18 May 2018).

[2]  http://greenaudits.co.za/how-to-read-your-water-meter/ (Date visited: 18 May 2018).

[3] https://www.health24.com/Lifestyle/Environmental-health/see-how-much-water-do-you-use-per-day-20170613 (Dated visited: 18 May 2018).

[4] Section 36 of the Constitution.

[5] http://www.chamberofmines.org.za/special-features/121-national-environment-month (Date visited: 18 May 2018).

[6] http://soer.deat.gov.za/612.html (Date visited: 18 May 2018).

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.