Asbestos Phasing out Plan & Wildlife Economy: Department of Environmental Affairs briefing; Environmental Affairs Budget Review and Recommendations Report

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

27 October 2015
Chairperson: Mr J Mthembu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

BRRR 2015-2010: Budgetary Review & Recommendations Reports

The Committee met with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) for two briefings on progress made on asbestos phasing out and the wildlife economy.

Asbestos phasing out plan
the Department informed Members of affected areas and provinces, remediation options and cost estimations for in-situ remediation. The presentation also looked at progress made with asbestos remediation, progress with secondary asbestos remediation and recommendations.

The Committee discussed the need for a holistic plan on how to deal with the negative effects of asbestos, the mandate of the inter-ministerial committee established and the degrading of asbestos fibres. Members emphasised that faster progress needed to be seen not just by the Department but all involved – a cost could not be attached to the lives of South Africans and a progressive approach was needed in the short term’ while elevation of the issue to an international level should be considered in the longer term. The Committee questioned which countries were still importing, exporting, manufacturing and producing asbestos and cases of litigation and compensation.

Wildlife Economy
The DEA briefed the Committee on the wildlife economy by looking at the extremely untransformed nature of the bio-prospecting and wildlife industry, the bio-trade and the wildlife market and BES goals. The presentation also covered the bio-prospecting industry targets, wildlife industry targets and progress made on the BES strategy.

The Committee engaged the Department on biodiversity spatiality and concerns around bio-piracy in terms of the exploitation of indigenous knowledge, and which species were most threatened in this regard. The Committee emphasised the need for transformation for all South Africans to benefit from the wildlife economy and not just a select minority – in this regard, the Department needed to put real effort into making communities aware of opportunities.

Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report
Moving to Committee business, the Committee adopted its Draft Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs 2015 with one amendment – an additional recommendation was added.

The Committee also adopted its draft programme for the fourth quarter acknowledging that the document was subject to changes. 

Meeting report

Progress Report on Secondary Asbestos Remediation

The Chairperson said the issue of asbestos had been affecting many South Africans along with other issues like gases and mine dumps. There was a need for a holistic plan on how to deal with the negative effects, including asbestos. It was important for Members to inform their constituencies and communities of what government was doing, which often required government-wide cooperation. The Committee also raised the issue of the multi-billion money spinning wildlife economy – he was pleased the Committee would be briefed and then discuss this matter. One of the issues was that this industry appeared to be lily white, untransformed and not in keeping with what the Constitution instructed. It would be interesting to hear what was being done to change the nature of this industry so that it was representative of the country as a whole. 

Mr Mark Gordon, DEA DDG: Chemicals and Waste Management, by way of introduction, agreed asbestos had been a topical issue for many years, especially so in relation to mining and its negative effects. At some point departments would need to come together to develop an integrated and holistic approach to handle the problem of mine dumps. Historically, in 1996, Cabinet launched an investigation into asbestos contamination in affected areas after some communities started complaining. In 1998, an asbestos summit was held in SA, which then led to the banning of the manufacturing and production of asbestos in SA in 1999 following a Cabinet decision.  There was a difference between primary and secondary asbestos remediation – primary spoke to the mining of asbestos. In 2002, there were a few court cases where mining companies were taken to court and compensation was then paid out by the mining companies and the case was closed in terms of worker compensation of the miners. In 2004, however, Cabinet commissioned the Department to undertake a study on the effects of secondary asbestos contamination. Typically, miners would come home with the asbestos fibres and start infecting their families. Trucks transporting asbestos also led to contamination of roads and railways etc. In 2006, the study was completed and after a Cabinet memo in 2011, in 2012, Cabinet endorsed the secondary asbestos plan for SA and, at the time, commissioned an inter-governmental task team on dealing with secondary asbestos. There was a lot of to and fro to get the secondary asbestos plan approved by Cabinet but this occurred in 2013 after being completed in 2008. In 2015, Cabinet approved the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee on secondary asbestos remediation. The presentation would outline where matters currently were.

Mr Mpho Tshitangoni, DEA Director: Land Remediation, noted that asbestos related diseases were commonly referred to as a silent killer. After looking at the map of affected areas, background to the issue and summary of all affected problems, the presentation moved on to look at the three remediation options.

Mr Tshitangoni then took the Committee through cost estimates for the in-situ remediation option, progress on asbestos remediation, progress with secondary asbestos remediation and recommendations. 

Mr Gordon added that some of the findings of the study and work of the programme was taken to a national summit on chemicals and land remediation that the Minister hosted early in October 2015. There were approx. 300 delegates in attendance from all sectors in society including asbestos sufferers and an asbestos interest group from Limpopo. At the end of the summit, a set of resolutions was adopted which the Minister approved. One of the resolutions spoke to the establishment of an asbestos task team along with an asbestos action committee involving government, communities, NGOs and those who had the interests of the community at heart. The idea was to meet often in affected areas to create awareness. The plan recommended the removal and relocation of communities – options included declaring areas a national emergency and then moving a lot of people, as the study recommended, temporary relocation or treatment/rectify/remediate.  There was a request for the Department to keep communities informed and aware of what was being planned and challenges experienced – this was being done often. Another suggestion was for the Committee to consider visiting the affected areas – it was important to maintain engagement and awareness in terms of challenges and where things were going.

Discussion

The Chairperson asked what the mandate would be of the inter-ministerial committee established this year. He wanted to know how fast progress could be made on the matter if everyone worked together. The briefing spoke only to what the DEA was doing but he was interested in the joint programme emanating from the inter-ministerial committee.

Mr T Hadebe (DA) was deeply worried – section 24 of the Constitution compelled government to ensure South Africans lived in an environment that was not harmful to their well being. He wanted to know what the inter-ministerial committee was currently doing. The study was completed in 2008 and should have been actioned a long time ago. There was a township where half of the roofs were asbestos.

Mr P Mabilo (ANC) was concerned about the snail’s pace in addressing the findings of the Department’s own study. Regarding the three options given, he did not think a cost could be applied to the lives of people and to think this way was flawed. He felt it best to push for removing people from affected areas. (There were still many countries that exported, imported and produced asbestos. The Department must come up with a progressive approach in the short term in order to address the challenges in the two most affected provinces because there was nowhere to run. In the long term, the challenge should be elevated to an international level for intervention.

Ms H Kekana (ANC) asked if asbestos fibres degraded over time and if so, how long it took.

Ms H Nyambi (ANC) wanted to know which other countries suffered from asbestos-related diseases. What were these countries doing to solve diseases and cure the problem?

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) applauded government for the progressive policy direction on banning asbestos manufacturing and production – this was a move that was long overdue but had it not been for the ANC government, people would still be suffering. He was however worried about the pace at which some of the challenges were being redressed. He was of the opinion that the problem was much bigger than realised because some asbestos products were all over the country and were not just limited to where the mines were. He wanted to know when the inter-ministerial task team would complete its job. Was there any litigation so far or anywhere people could go to claim if they were affected? He was thinking here specifically of compensation to those who suffered. He hoped issues would be resolved in the action committee. He welcomed the invitation to visit the affected areas – it was something to include in the Committee programme

The Chairperson, after welcoming the Minister, noted the matter of asbestos remediation, in the context of mine dumps, needed a holistic approach. These were matters raised by communities and NGOs so they needed to be raised with the Department. Furthermore, Members themselves lived in these communities. What were the action plans, on a government-wide level, to deal with mine dumps in the immediate, medium and long term? It was important for the discussion to be framed holistically. The picture currently framed was not nice at all and the enormity of the issue did not fit the picture – relative to the picture, what was the response to the broader issues? Some responsibilities resided with other relevant departments and this explained why the inter-ministerial committee was formed to put resources and heads together. How much funding was there at a government-wide level to deal with this matter? There was a big problem last week which many supported, including government, on the matter of student fees- today’s discussion showed there were many other matters to consider such as those which affected the health and well-being of South Africans. He agreed the pace of movement was not satisfactory and more needed to be done.

Minister Edna Molewa highlighted that the country operated in a time where the global financial position was not that good. Therefore to find money for dealing with the issue of asbestos was a problem. The first option should be put out there and whatever funding was there should be prioritised. In the Northern Cape, schools were being rebuilt but the teams needed to sit down to do what was being asked of them. The Department needed money and for this it needed to push for a stronger approach. The Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) was established some months ago while the inter-departmental committee sat. With the IMC, there was interaction between the Department of Transport and DEA but she could report back to the Committee at a later stage on where Human Settlements came in. The IMC would emphasise priority programmes. The process was to be taken in chunks before it was fully dealt with.

Asbestos was banned in SA after 1994 – Cabinet said it was important to count the number of human settlements which required refurbishing of asbestos roofs etc. Looking back at the banning order, it actually banned the manufacturing and production of asbestos. Asbestos became dangerous when the fibres were exposed and products started to break. If this happened, it had to be reported for procedure to be followed for treatment and disposal. Many did not know this part of the rule. Next time it would be important to report to the Committee as an inter-departmental committee. A team was led by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) for the remediation of mine dumps in terms of primary asbestos remediation. The mine dumps were being rehabilitated. The DEA determined standards of a rehabilitated mine that DMR was to meet when rehabilitating or closing a mine. In terms of compensation, there were cases taken on and won; compensation was agreed upon and money was paid. There were however some problems with retrospective application of the law. With asbestos, the shorter the fibre was, the more dangerous it was. In terms of the law, one could not simply just remove people – she had tried many times to speak to community members who simply did not want to leave. There were instances where people were moved but it was not an easy process. Remediation was case-specific while at other times there was temporary relocation as another option. She agreed faster implementation was needed which would occur through reprioritisation. 

Mr Tshitangoni added that Zimbabwe was still currently mining asbestos along with Pakistan and other European countries. No litigation was received thus far which related to secondary asbestos related contamination. Asbestos fibres did degrade but it depended on the type of fibre. Fibres could also be treated as part of remediation, which would cause degradation. Depending on the case, there were a number of treatment options at hand.

Minister Molewa responding to internationalisation of the debate, said there were many international forums discussing the banning of certain chemicals and their movement. There was ongoing discussion of how asbestos should be banned – it was believed these discussions would yield further results.

Mr Gordon, looking at the action committee, explained there was an internationally funded NGO representing interests of the community. The Department had good relations with this NGO and it was used as a conduit to communicate with the community in terms of relaying progress.  There was a compliance regime to deal with the roof sheets, which established a norm on how to treat these sheets. They were disinfected on site, removed under very strict conditions and sealed, wrapped and covered, to be sent to a licensed hazardous landfill site; this was a strict procedure. While the funding was prioritised, DEA approached Treasury to present the case but DEA continued with its limited funds for demonstration, pilot-type interventions for dealing with some sites, like schools, for immediate intervention. At the same time, companies from abroad presented different approaches where possible public-private partnerships could be established for rehabilitation. This was also presented to National Treasury but this would be in the longer term.

Minister Molewa added dealing with Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) was also important to the interdepartmental task team – this was why it was important to present holistically.

The Chairperson agreed about the need for a holistic picture. Within the existing framework, he agreed some of these issues could be tackled. It would be important for the Committee to meet with the Committees on Water and Sanitation and Mineral Resources because these were crosscutting issues. 

Mr Hadebe suggested this be included in the Committee’s Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) as an additional recommendation.

The Chairperson did not think this would be problematic. There was nothing as terrible as seeing people suffering and dying from the same issue and one could not answer for this as a public representative, it was sickening. The Committee would be meeting with environmental NGOs and he knew many of them would inquire about what was being done about the mine dumps and AMD. These were issues that directly affected people. The BRRR touched on this matter but did not make a recommendation so that would be useful

Wildlife Economy

The Chairperson highlighted that history taught that majority of South Africans did not benefit from the wildlife economy of SA and were still not benefiting. As public representatives, Members needed to know what the Department was doing to ensure all South Africans had access to this economy.

Ms Skumsa Mancotywa, DEA Acting DDG: Biodiversity, noted that SA was the third most bio diverse country in the world after Brazil and Indonesia, and the country was central in efforts to conserve biodiversity. SA was the only country in the world to have an entire plant kingdom within the borders of the country – this was the Cape floral kingdom. This kingdom was worth R10 billion to the SA economy and there were many benefits to this biodiversity. A large proportion of the SA population depended directly on biological resources for their subsistence through, for example, harvesting of plants, hunting of animals, food, medicine, shelter etc. This biodiversity also provided an important buffer against climate change, poverty etc. It also allowed for recreation and relaxation. SA’s biodiversity stood at an estimated R73 billion according to a comprehensive study, about 7% of the country’s GDP. More than 60% of the tourism industry was dependent on eco-tourism which included biodiversity based tourism. The biodiversity sector had an inherent and under-utilised potential and the industry was untransformed i.e. it was not representative of the country’s demographics and the wealth was not shared equally. A framework was needed to balance these historical inequities; the draft strategy was thought to be a game changer to optimise economic benefits of biodiversity for all.  

Mr Moscow Marumo, DEA Chief Director: Biodiversity Economy and Sustainable Use indicated that what used to be called the wildlife economy had in fact transformed into what was now called the biodiversity economy. This stemmed from the fact that it included not only animals but also plants as well to allow for a broader terminology. It could be said the biodiversity economy was now competing with the oceans economy. The Department felt the need to establish a new unit called the Biodiversity Economy and Sustainable Use unit (BESU) to develop the biodiversity economy. Several studies were commissioned to establish the current state of the economy to be used as a baseline to develop a way forward.

Mr Marumo then took the Committee through the remainder of the presentation in terms of the bio-prospecting and wildlife industry specifically referring to their extremely untransformed nature, the bio-trade and wildlife market and BES goals. The presentation also addressed the bio-prospecting industry targets, wildlife industry targets and progress with the BES strategy. 

Discussion

Mr Hadebe wanted to know if the Department did any biodiversity spatiality to know which species worked best in which climates/areas.

Mr Mabilo was deeply appreciative of the fact that the Department would be addressing biodiversity piracy. Where he came from, in the Northern Cape, there was a lot of biodiversity but an indigenous stimulant was hijacked to maintain weight – the species was now patent and being sold without any acknowledgment of the indigenous people who discovered and used the stimulant for years.  He sought more information on the emerging game farmer from the previously disadvantaged individuals. He felt the presentation was very comprehensive and informative.

Mr Makhubele welcomed the draft strategy crafted, which provided some hope that all people would one day participate in the biodiversity economy. It was one thing to talk about the industry being untransformed and another to get into the business of transformation. It was important to ensure those who historically did not have access to the biodiversity economy were brought on board and for the Department to really make an effort in this regard, even if no interest shown. Communities needed to be made aware of opportunities and the Department really needed to make an effort in this regard. With bio-piracy, he wanted to know if this happened on a wide scale and which species were mostly affected. Illegal issues should be dealt with immediately and not only when the strategy was finalised.

The Chairperson also congratulated the Department for crafting the strategy, which had all South Africans in the centre and did not just benefit a blessed few but to advance broad-based black economic empowerment. The Committee would read the gazette and make further contribution. Were there any players in government who were also coming into the fray although most of the work was economically based? It was important to remember the Department’s primary mandate as contained in section 24 of the Constitution. In the crafting of the strategy, was there involvement of others in the economic sector so that government was broadly speaking in the same voice? He was pleased to have a sense of where biodiversity was 21 years later. There were important opportunities to capitalise on for employment and inequality.

Minister Molewa responded that there were efforts province by province and there were a number of protocols acceded to so there was movement in this space to protect fauna and flora. There was a lot of coordination with other departments, between provinces and stakeholders outside government to engage on biodiversity. Some aspects fell outside the scope of DEA and this explained the importance of coordination. It was also important to work closely with the Committee, as public representatives, to ensure publicity and dissemination of knowledge. It was important that those residing in rural areas benefited. The SA Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) stored data on SA’s biodiversity picture, which was used to decide if competing developments could happen and determine planning going forward. This tool was also critical for knowing where biodiversity sensitivities were or where certain areas were completely off limits. Once a particular species was lost, it could not be recreated. This addressed the issue of spatial planning. She was pleased with the idea of bio prospecting, which was an area where there was a lot of activity. Communities were already benefiting in the space of bio prospecting. If a company sought the use of a particular indigenous species, for example, aloe, it would be made known the species was part of indigenous knowledge of a particular community and the company would have to pay the community for the use of this traditional knowledge. The Department of Science and Technology also coordinated this work but both departments were part of the bigger picture.

Mr Marumo added that the wildlife industry was so big, there were something like 11 000 game farms in SA with about 20 million heads of game in the country. 300 000 heads of game for 15 years was a reasonable target given the overall number so the Department thought it was achievable. Bio-prospecting access and sharing regulations played a part in countering bio-piracy but additional tools were needed to solve some problems with bio-piracy. There was a need to inform and educate communities about bio protecting as a new and exciting space but where a lot of exploitation happened. The Department undertook continuous community education and awareness raising sessions, as was currently being done by the team in North West. There was a dedicated programme called community based natural resource management along with the wildlife forum and newly established bio-prospecting forum to assist in gaining more ground. DEA was working with the provinces, as part of a collective to ensure opportunities were quickly identified and capitalised on through expansion of work with the provinces, many opportunities would not be missed. It was also important to remember that if someone wished to capitalise on a new opportunity, they would need to apply to the Department for a permit so there was a tight net in this regard. Some of the species heavily exploited in terms of bio-piracy included, some cycads, aloe (heavily traded species with huge international demand), some reptiles and some insects. Bio-piracy was a major problem but the Green Scorpions were doing a lot of work.

Minister Molewa said conservation required a continuous balance. Of late, people were getting involved in colour breeding of wildlife and those benefiting from black empowerment, were quickly moving into the space of a making money. There were dangers to simply opening up areas in this way, it was always important to maintain a balance. As soon as the report came out, it would be shared with the Committee.

Ms Mancotywa added there were plans to expand areas under conservation and these areas were already identified on the basis of their biodiversity significance. There were other areas where the Department would need to step up its efforts to strengthen levels of biodiversity planning.

The Chairperson thought the Department was moving in the right direction and appreciated the work being done. One thing about government was that it had wonderful ideas but these ideas still needed to be tested. Hopefully wonderful inputs would be received from the government gazette. It was important that people knew about what was in the pipeline and opportunities that might come their way in the future.

Draft Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs 2015

The Chairperson thanked the Committee staff for crafting the report – he thought they did a wonderful job of capturing discussion.

Mr Hadebe suggested the report include a recommendation on the issue of asbestos as it was critical and needed to be prioritised by the Department. There were communities living day in and day out suffering as a result.

Mr Makhubele thought the report captured discussions well.

The Chairperson said the recommendation should also call for a briefing by the inter-departmental committee to deal with issues linked to asbestos.

The Draft Budgetary Review and Recommendations Report of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs 2015 was adopted with amendments.

Draft fourth term programme for the Committee on Environmental Affairs

Mr Makhubele suggested Members should still have the ability to make further changes to the programme given that the Committee operated within the programme of Parliament. Members also needed to ensure they had sufficient time to prepare for COP21 in Paris that came right after the oversight visit. Members should at least have a few days before the two trips.

The Chairperson responded that the programme was subject to changes but only a couple of days had been set aside for the visit to iSimangaliso at the end of November.

Mr Hadebe noted both the joint meeting and the oversight visit were scheduled for 26 November. This was also on a Thursday, which were caucus days.

Ms Tyhileka Madubela, Committee Secretary, clarified the meeting would take place in the morning and the Committee would then leave for the oversight trip in the afternoon. It was also a Committee week.

The draft fourth term programme for the Committee on Environmental Affairs was adopted.

Other Committee Business

The Chairperson noted that he still did not have the names of the DA Members who would be attending COP21 in Paris – the list of names was needed to send to the Chair of Committees. For the ANC, he would be attending along with Ms Kekana and the Chairperson of the Select Committee. There would also be a Member from the EFF.

Mr Hadebe said he would provide the names.

The meeting was adjourned.

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