Minister of Water & Environmental Affairs briefing


17 Jun 2009

The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Ms Buyelwa Sonjica, briefed the media on her Department’s budget vote.  She explained the issues facing her Department and how she was going to address them.


Q: The Minister was asked if the industry charter was something new or a work in progress.

A:  The Minister answered that it was a work in progress.  When a person came into a Department, they must continue what was started by their colleague. 

Q: The minister was asked if there would be a turf war breaking out between her and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Ms. Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

A: The Minister answered that she did not foresee any conflict between herself and Ms. Joemat-Pettersson.  They were currently consulting with each other.  In terms of the political agenda that guided them, they come from the same stable and had the same approach.  They may differ in the manner in which they addressed issues but there was no conflict. 

Q: The Minister was asked whether she intended to build new dams.

A: The Minister answered that the process of building dams depended on the country’s needs.  .  There may be dams in the pipeline.  It was part of the development that the country needed.  It did not mean the Department would build dams rapidly.  The Department would be subjected to the environmental impact assessment process before it can construct a dam.   

Q: The Minister was asked if there were any plans to increase the amount of free water allocated to the poor to above six kiloliters per month.  In addition, she was asked whether she intended to develop a definitive approach with regards to prepaid water meters.  Lastly, the Minister was asked whether she shared the view of the former environmental affairs minister who stated that nuclear was the energy of the future.

A: The Minister noted that the free water that had been given to the indigent had been challenged by a number of interest groups, who complained that it was insufficient for large families.  Government recognised that this was a legitimate concern but could not state whether this would change at this point. South Africans needed to appreciate that they lived in a water scarce country.  More allocation (to citizens) was dependant on the availability of the resource itself, especially with climate change being a growing reality.  In some parts of the country the water table was so low that water could not be pumped into the communities.  On the issue of the former Minister’s statement, she commented that nuclear was the cleanest form of energy despite the radioactive waste it produced.  It was the most reliable form of energy.   She acknowledged that the prepaid water meters was a very controversial matter.  As long as the free basic allocation was guaranteed, she would not quarrel with the prepaid meter system.  What remained important is that it must not deprive the indigent of the allocation that is due to them.  The administration of the free basic water was a nightmare to municipalities and in the process of solving that problem they came up with the prepaid meters.  It was a matter that the Minister must still apply her mind to. 

Q: The Minister was asked what her role was going to be with regard to projects such as the N2 toll road project. She was asked if she saw herself as an appeal authority or would Section 98 apply there as well.

A: The Minister answered that she was bound by the Constitution in the execution of her responsibilities. She was mandated to guarantee a healthy environment. At the same time, this did not imply that she should not think about the development needs of the country.  Anybody who wanted to embark on any kind of development had to comply with the environmental management plan.  For example, in the mining sector, no application had been approved without an environmental management plan.  The Department of Mines would be appealing to the executive authority responsible for the environment (Minister of Environment Affairs). 

Q: The Minister was asked her planned Department planned to deal with environmental crime more effectively and whether she intended to partner with other institutions to deal with environmental crime. 

A: The Minister answered that the Department would be establishing a dedicated unit that would be tasked with policing environmental crimes.  She had consulted the Minister of Justice about the possibility of establishing environmental courts because the current justice system was overloaded and would not prioritise these sorts of crimes

Q: The Minister was asked what the practical effects were of adding the shark and whale to the traditional big five.

A: The Minister answered that this would have a significant impact on tourism in the country.  South Africa would be the only country in the world to have a “big seven”.  

Q: It was recalled that the Minister of Planning had stated that he would be responsible for long-term planning in terms of climate change.  As a result, the Minister was asked who would be making the decisions about these things. 

A: The Minister answered that her Department was supposed to be the lead department on matters of the environment. This included bringing the whole country on board in terms of ensuring that it integrated matters of climate change in everything it did.   The mandate that the President gave her made it clear that she was going to run the negotiations on climate change.  It was important to ensure that Africa was on board and that the developed economies appreciated the concerns of Africa. 

Q: The Minister was asked about the environmental crimes that were committed by the municipalities who allowed spillage of raw waste to go into rivers and kill children.  She was asked what the latest update was on the Lesotho Water Highlands project.

A: On the second issue, the Minister answered that she did not know where the process was right now, and made an undertaking to provide greater detail during the debate on the budget vote of the Department.  She understood that the project was entering its second phase. With respect to the first question, she admitted that local spillage was a big issue that arose as a consequence of infrastructure that was not well-maintained.  Government had set aside R787 billion over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period to look at water and sewage infrastructure.  Most of the municipalities did not have the adequate technical capacity that would assist them in the maintenance of the infrastructure.  The Department was weak in terms of forcing compliance. That is why the mines were getting away with polluting the water.  There was hope that the specialised unit would help to address this issue.

The briefing was adjourned.

18 JUNE 2009




Allow me, Honourable Speaker to acknowledge that over fifteen years in government, the African National Congress has made progress in developing policies and strategies for the environment portfolio. These policies informed the Constitution which is the supreme law of the land and the repository of the values of the nation. They were further extended to the White Paper which is the policy of government. All of these constitute the legal and political mandate for the Department and the context within which we will pursue our efforts to contribute to a better life. Our challenge is to further integrate climate change considerations with sustainable development strategies.

What is key about our mandate is the balance between environmental protection and sustainable development as clearly stated out in Section 24 of the Constitution.  Evidently, for us to succeed we need to join hands with all South Africans in the attainment of a common vision that will be in support of the creation of a healthy nation.

Rural Development

The Department will support rural development objectives by ensuring that the integrity of ecosystems on which rural economies are based is protected. In his State of the Nation Address, President Zuma said that Sustainable Resource Management and Use is one of the strategic priorities of government. It is in this context that the department will continue to roll out community based natural resource management programmes. These will focus on enterprise development and sharing with local communities the benefits from indigenous biological resources. The policy and legislative tools provided by the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act will therefore be used to this effect and we will make sure that the processes make sense to the affected communities and their effective involvement will be encouraged. Provinces and local government must come up with specific programmes that will respond to their unique challenges.

Working together to speed up economic growth and transform the economy to create decent work and sustainable livelihoods.

Honourable Members, the transformation of the biodiversity sector is significant in the creation of decent work and sustainable livelihoods that could benefit millions of our people. The conservation estate provides a key resource for the empowerment of local communities. Ecotourism opportunities and nature-based or green jobs associated with conservation and biodiversity will need further enhancement.

We are the third most biodiversityrich country in the world. This means we have a diversity of landscapes and natural beauty to match our diversity in culture and language. Increasingly, this natural beauty is used to untangle the social injustices of the past and unlock economic benefits to local communities. However, this resource base has not been sufficiently unpacked to provide direct benefits to communities. If we are to truly deal with the grinding poverty that our people live in, we must find creative and collaborative ways of extending the benefits accrued from such developments to ordinary South Africans.

The rich natural resources are not benefiting all sectors of society equitably.  In order to address the transformation of the biodiversity sector the department will focus on the development of a comprehensive framework for sector transformation.

The department has noted the important contribution that the hunting industry makes to our GDP. The industry alone injected an estimated income of US$ 91 212 875 (equivalent of R753million) in the 2006/7 financial year. This industry, based on the countrys rich fauna, has therefore been identified as providing a potential platform for broadening the participation of local communities in economic activities. Working together with the hunting industry, the department has initiated a process to establish a transformation charter. Consultations with industry representatives have been initiated. The Department will publish National Norms and Standards for the hunting industry for implementation by March 2010, which will form part of the transformation agenda of the department.

Working together we need to act now to avoid further damage caused by Climate Change

Honourable members, Climate Change is a threat to the stability of our country and, if left unattended, can cause serious damage not only to the environment but to the entire ecosystem and our ability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There is a great need to demystify the climate change debate and ensure that our people have a full understanding of human activities that contribute to climate change. It is with that in mind that we declared this month Environment Month, with our celebrations guided by the theme SA Act Now! Combat Climate Change.  This is a clarion call for all of us to act responsibly in our quest to ultimately combat this phenomenon.

We will earnestly implement programmes using policy tools like the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios, Climate Change Response Policy and a host of others that will guide us as we deal with this challenge

While South Africa has to continue to pursue programmes for mitigation, it is important that it also strengthens its capacity to adapt to the catastrophes related to the effects of climate change. To this end, the South African Weather Services (SAWS) will strengthen its ability to enhance the resilience of South Africa and the SADC Region against the impacts of Climate Variability and Change through, amongst others investing in state-of-the-art data collection,  communication and processing infrastructure.

The SA Weather Service will also collaborate with the Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) branch to derive synergies that will see MCM gaining access to SAWS aeroplanes to monitor the pollution of the sea while the SAWS will be allowed access to MCM shipping vessels to mount their equipment for weather predictions. With oceans covering over 70% of the earths surface it is pivotal that we recognise the role they play in regulating climate and weather, as many people remain largely unaware of the key connections between a healthy ocean, a healthy climate and our future.  Joint national projects with other stakeholders will be undertaken to address this shortcoming. The 8th June has been declared by the United Nations to be World Oceans Day and South Africa also celebrated it.

Marine resource management

It is important to continue to pursue our programmes of protecting our marine life, given that there is already a decline of the stocks with some of the species being endangered, e.g. the shark.

Hence 2009 has been declared the year of the shark. On the basis of the importance of the Oceans, I have declared October as Marine Month to focus on the significance of our seas and marine life.

On the basis of available science, we have significant numbers of populations in the top ocean predators, i.e. the shark and the whale. On that basis we will add these two species to the Big Five and then have a resultant Big Seven.

The declining fish stocks pose a huge challenge to fisheries management in South Africa this is not only a national phenomenon, but a global problem with approximately 25% of the worlds marine fish stocks being considered over-exploited.  This requires innovative management strategies if we want to ensure the sustainability of our marine living resources.  A government-wide intervention is required in the coastal communities to address coastal poverty and alternative livelihood opportunities in light of declining fish stocks.

Consequently, we will cooperate with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in promoting and supporting the growth of the fisheries production (marine and freshwater) aquaculture. 

A Fishing Capacity Management regime that entails matching vessel capacity with quota allocations has been implemented in the hake industry and it is envisaged that it be extended to other fishing sectors. 

The applications for the transfer of commercial fishing rights will now be processed in line with the recently approved Policy Rights Allocations On Tuna And Swordfish as well as the appeals will be processed and finalized in terms of the recently approved Policy on the Allocation of Additional Total Allowable Effort (TAE) in the Large Pelagics (Tuna and Swordfish).

A draft Policy on Subsistence/Small-Scale fisheries, gazetted on 12 December 2008, was followed by an extensive public participation process until March 2009. Challenges on Subsistence/Small-Scale fisheries included a decline in fish stocks, court proceedings and stakeholder reluctance which delayed the process.  The Department will continue its engagement within NEDLAC and with other stakeholders to finalize this process. 

Building a better Africa and a better world

The Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) programme is a key output of the department aimed at contributing towards the creation of an environment conducive to sustainable economic growth and development. Over the last 5 years, three tourist access facilities have been constructed and opened. They include the Giriyondo (links South Africa and Mozambique), Mata Mata and Sendelingsdrift (links South Africa and Namibia).

Subsequent to the opening of these facilities, there has been a significant increase in tourists passing through the gates with a total of 65 700 visitors linking to other neighbouring states. The construction of Tweerevieren tourist access facility within the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (which links South Africa and Botswana) is complete and the plan is to have it opened in the second half of 2009.

Six months before the crucial negotiations on Climate Change in Copenhagen, the meeting of the African Ministers Council on Environment (AMCEN) chaired by South Africa, reached a landmark position on climate change in Nairobi.  African Ministers on the Environment identified substantially scaled-up finance, technology and capacity-building as necessities for Africa to combat climate change. South Africa is participating actively in this process, with a view to achieving an inclusive, fair and effective international climate change regime that achieves a balance between adaptation and mitigation, as well as a balance between development and climate imperatives, and a comprehensive international programme on the implementation of adaptation.


Honourable members, we are aware that most of the environmental crimes are often committed by organized crime syndicates with international connections. In order to address these crimes adequately, enforcement and compliance capacity needs to be increased, but that is only effective if we bring the criminal justice system into the equation.

Partnerships with security institutions such as SAPS, National Prosecuting Authority, the NIA, the Asset Forfeiture Unit (ASU) and the Department of Defence in order to deal more effectively with such environmental crimes are crucial.

We will ensure that we strengthen our capacity to investigate and prosecute environmental crimes, enforcing a zero tolerance approach to illegal and unsustainable exploitation of resources.  We have consulted with the Minister of Justice with the aim to strengthen our capacity to tackle the environmental crime activities and to this end, we will re-open the Environmental Courts.

These Courts will, as part of the criminal justice system, tackle all environmental criminal activities, for if we fail to deal decisively with those who continue to plunder our resources and pollute our ecosystems with impunity, we will be failing in our responsibility of conserving our environment.  I would also like to urge our communities to work with us in dealing with those who show scant regard for the laws of our country. Environmental laws must also be respected and adhered to, that we need to emphasise.

Balancing the Impact of Development on the Environment effectively

The department exceeded the target it had set for itself by processing 90% of National Environmental Impact Assessments according to standard procedures within the stipulated time frames throughout the year. The requirement for EIA appeals was to provide 95% of technical input within the stipulated timeframes for feedback on appeals. This requirement was also met.
The National Environmental Management Amendment Act, Act 62 of 2008 which came into effect on 1 May 2009 opened the door to a new and improved environmental impact assessment and management regime for South Africa. That system will move us away from an environmental impact management approach that is solely reliant on EIA to a system where the EIA tools form but one in a variety of instruments to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in environmental impact management. The development of the EIM strategy to fully implement the new legislation will be the main priority of the EIM function.

Improving the quality of air that we breathe

To achieve one of governments priorities of a healthy nation, we will give careful attention to the quality of the air we breathe. The year 2009 is a watershed year in air quality governance in South Africa and 9/11 will assume a new meaning to air quality management stakeholders in South Africa. The 11th of September 2009 will see the complete repeal of the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act (APPA) of 1965 and the coming into full force of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act of 2004. This final Change of Guards from APPA to AQA is a product of a long transition which has been carefully steered by the department with a number of transition projects to ensure a smooth passing of the baton.

I am confident that under the portfolio of Water and Environmental Affairs as an integrated department, we will continue to deliver on our mandate in the next financial year, and would like to thank all staff members and stakeholders for their hard work and dedication.

I thank you.


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