Captive Animals High Level Panel Report implementation; iSimangaliso wetlands; with Ministers

Environment, Forestry and Fisheries

22 February 2022
Chairperson: Ms F Muthambi (ANC) & Nkosi Z Mandela (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video

Ministerial high-Level Panel report

In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries and the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development were briefed by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries (DFFE) on what was being done in response to the recommendations of the High-Level Panel on Captive Animals. Both Ministers were present and commented on the progress in the two departments' collaborative efforts.

Members asked the Departments about the absence of timelines in the briefings; when the Wildlife Welfare Forum meeting would be and its composition. They asked if communities and indigenous knowledge had been consulted in drafting the Animal Welfare Bill.

The Committee also received a briefing from the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park Authority about the intervention to clean the rivers of accumulated silt and reeds to enable the rivers to flow freely and prevent back-flooding of water and reconnect the river to the dry Lake St Lucia estuary.

Members asked about the solution for the communities around iSimangaliso wetlands and what was impeding the authorities from cleaning the rivers.
 

Meeting report

Chairperson Muthambi welcomed Ministers Thoko Didiza and Barbara Creecy and Deputy Minister Maggie Sotyu. The Committee was convening for a historical matter which had been discussed in a parliamentary colloquium on captive lion breeding and lion bone trade. A Committee Report on the Captive Lion Breeding Colloquium had made animal welfare recommendations to both DALRRD and DFFE.

The departments were to outline clear time frames as there had been extensive welfare problems in the captive animal breeding industry such as cruelty and inbreeding that had not been addressed. In the past DALRRD had appeared before the Committee followed by DFFE which indicated that responsibility for animal welfare rested with DALRRD. A Constitutional Court ruling in 2016 led to the Minister appointing a High-Level Panel to review the policies on elephant, lion, leopard and rhino handling including the management of breeding, hunting and the trade of animals. It had also dealt with free roaming animals. The objective was to provide for the use of indigenous biodiversity resources in a manner that was biologically sustainable and considered their wellbeing according to amendments updating the National Environment Management Biodiversity Amendment Act.

The Restitution Land Rights Act of 1994 made it possible for people to claim back their land rights including laying claim to protected areas such as parts of the Kruger National Park. The Committee was interested to know when DALRRD would be executing the land claims in the national parks. There was a high level of frustration and resentment by local communities towards the South African National Parks (SANParks) due to the land claims. How could these two Committees ensure that the two departments were accountable to them and worked in synergy? The Committees were concerned about the land claims in Kruger National Park as well as the poachers. The two departments had come together to address the recommendations. The Committee was interested to know what the departments were doing together and in having a channel for proper accountability to avoid failure. The idea was not to hold separate meetings on common issues but come together and be more strategic together.

Chairperson Mandela emphasised that animals in captivity were very vulnerable and the Committee and the departments had to act decisively on the High-Level Panel recommendations. It was their duty to preserve and care for animals. The Constitution recognized their duty to care for animals and to preserve them for posterity. There were a lot of animals being held in captivity and it was their duty to ensure they were protected. The HLP reviewed several pieces of legislation and made recommendations. He referred to the Animal Protection Act of 1962, Animals Matters Amendment Act 42 of 1993, Performing Animals Act 24 of 1935 and the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 169 of 1993. The recommendations were to ensure that they had the capacity to advance animal protection.

Minster of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development remarks
Minister Thoko Didiza stated that the legislation governing animal welfare and protection in South Africa belonged to DALRRD and some to DFFE. The High-Level Panel highlighted the areas in which the departments had to collaborate; outlined what each legislation encompassed and how to deal with the recommendations. There were some short-term intervention recommendations to ensure there were no gaps in those areas identified. Some were long-term involving amendments to legislation. The departments were looking at how to integrate structures to ensure there was a collaborative effort.

The Minister asked for another joint meeting to discuss the land restitution cases in the protected areas because they had not prepared for it. There had been an agreement from the start of the restitution process to ensure that the protected areas were kept as business entities although there were claims. There was an agreement on how such claims were going to be managed. The communities were to have arrangements on how to participate in those SANParks. However, the Department was not ready to present the claim resolutions and how to help the communities.

Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) briefing
Dr Mphane Molefe, Director: Veterinary Public Health made a presentation on matters of Animal Welfare legislation and delegation of powers.

Minister of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries remarks
Minister Barbara Creecy said that there was a firm working relationship between her Department and that of Minister Didiza on a range of issues such as animal welfare and land restitution and small farmers.

Department of Forestry and Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) briefing
Ms Mohlago Flora Mokgohloa, Deputy Director-General: Biodiversity and Conservation, made a presentation highlighting the existing legislative mandates, biodiversity conservation, animal welfare and developments in biodiversity. The presentation also included sector legislative developments, the Wildlife Welfare Forum establishment and operational developments.

Discussion
Mr N Singh (IFP) asked about the timeframes to ensure that the departments had outcomes that spoke to the High-Level Panel recommendations adopted by the Fifth Parliament. The timeframes would help cut through the red tape. Was the Minister enforcing her mandate through the available regulations? There was no need to wait when something could be done. Was the Wildlife Welfare Forum to be established by 28 February, what would be its composition and terms of reference? What would have to be done to ensure it went through Cabinet to avoid challenges like those faced by the High-Level Panel?

Mr D Bryant (DA) asked for the timeframes and who was going to be held accountable for them. He asked for the number of meetings the two departments had had. What was the timetable for the Animal Welfare Bill and when was it to be tabled? He asked for an example of "not capturing cultural diversity". Was there a list of animals that were sapient and which ones were not?

What was its definition for sapient? Had the Minister requested Cabinet establish the inter-ministerial committee proposed in the HLP recommendations? There was no mention of the proposed National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) amendments to empower the Minister to prohibit activities that may negatively impact animals. What was the timeline for the MOU between the departments; when was it going to be signed? He asked for clarity on the overlapping mandate and the difference between welfare and wellbeing. When did the engagement happen and, if not, when would they? He asked if leopard hunting permits were being granted since leopards were quite uncommon. What was the process given the leopard numbers?

Ms T Breedt (FF+) also raised her concerns about the absence of timelines by the departments. She asked when the Wild Welfare Forum meeting would be and its composition. When would the Animal Welfare Bill and the regulations mentioned going to be published? She expressed her concern as it seemed there was no clear-cut stakeholder consultation. Lion stakeholders had not been interviewed widely unlike rhino stakeholders. Were there considerations for that? It had not granted power to any other wildlife organisations to assist in ensuring the Acts were fulfilled and animals are taken care of. The regulations did not seem practical such as the slaughter lots at auctions.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) asked if there was a registry of trained professionals in the department. How often was the department taking on new issues and being trained on conservation and new regulations? Had it considered the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) standards and incorporated them into law and policy? Was government supportive of the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare? What had the two departments discussed about the welfare of wild animals and what were the issues addressed?

Mr N Masipa (DA) asked how the departments were going to deal with this concurrent function since other levels of government demonstrated lack of capacity and poor work. Had it been highlighted as one of the challenges? How was government going to deal with the parks? South Africa had been assessed against the Animal Protection Index, what did that mean in terms of animal protection? He noted the absence of timelines was a reoccurring challenge for government. He asked what capacity there was to support the Bills since there were challenges to do with vaccines and animal welfare. Lack of capacity would be a serious challenge to implement the Bills.

Ms C Phillips (DA) also emphasized the lack of timelines, there seemed to be no urgency. She asked what measure was used to determine if the animal was sapient. She asked for the work outcomes of each meeting between the departments. She noted the contradiction that animal welfare was a rapidly changing area yet at the same time one was told not to rush the bill. Another contradiction was the statement that the regulations would suffice. If it was such a rapidly changing area how would the regulations upgraded in 1993 be sufficient?

What kind of funding was being considered for the SPCA because it was expected to do all the work without government funding. For organisations being given the powers of the SPCA, did the Department refer to NGOs or government organisations? She asked if one day was enough for the colloquium and confirmation of the date.

Ms Phillips asked why new Elephant Norms and Standards were required since they had just been gazetted. When was the National Elephant Strategy going to be completed? When would the revised norms and standards for management of lions, rhinos and leopards be developed? DFFE was invited to the DALRRD working group to draft the new Animal Welfare Bill but there was no reference to those meetings in its presentation. Had DFFE reviewed the draft Animal Welfare Bill, had made recommendations? If not, when would that happen? She asked about the courses that would be offered by the University of Pretoria.

Ms A Weber (DA) asked how the gaps in roles and responsibilities were going to be identified. What consultations had taken place with DFFE to coordinate the development of animal welfare norms and standards? Had DFFE formally met with the DALRRD working group drafting the Animal Welfare Bill. If so, how many times were they going to meet? When would the terms of reference for the Wildlife Welfare Forum be publicly released and provided to the Committee? What was meant by a single source provider? She asked how the intensive breeding of rhinos contributed to recovering the rhino population since such rhinos will not be reintroduced in the wild and in Kruger National Park due to tuberculosis.

Despite the legislative restrictions in the implementation of HLP recommendations, why had the Minister not set a zero portal for the export lion bans, instituted an audit of captive lion breeding facilities in preparation and indicated how the wellbeing provisions of NEMBA prohibited certain activities. These would be implementation and engagement with NGOs who had offered financial and technical assistance in implementing the HLP recommendations. Animals that were not included in the Animal Welfare Act, had to be included because they were on the endangered list, and were freely coming into South Africa. The departments were responsible for them. They should be included because they were sapient beings and should have had the same welfare and well-being protections as other animals.

Mr N Capa (ANC) commended the collaboration. He asked if legislation and policy had been linked to the traditional authorities and indigenous knowledge. The indigenous communities knew which animals needed protecting long before colonisation. Consultation would make the work easier because there would be elements of social acceptability rather than people feeling that the legislation was a form of oppression.

Mr P Modise (ANC) asked about the timelines. He asked if there were departmental efforts to ensure improved cooperation in areas of commonality which included legislation. Were the meetings taking place between the departments and how often were they happening? He asked if there was a commitment to implement the HLP recommendations and for their timelines.

Ms M Tlhape (ANC) emphasized the need for timelines to ensure accountability and oversight. It was important that the two departments moved together on common issues.

She agreed with Minister Didiza that time had to be set aside to discuss land restitution. The parks had tourist lodges which made the Department of Tourism an interested party. As custodians, it was imperative to know the operations and impediments for the environment and forestry. She asked if there was an intervention for funding the NSPCA since it relied only on donor funding.

Were there plans to empower the national biodiversity legislation that was needed within the wildlife sector? She asked how getting permits and transportation contributed to the cruelty of animals. Were there intentions to address those activities? She if the World Wildlife Fund was on board with the interventions as it dealt with welfare standards and needed to be on board.

Ms T Mbabama (DA) asked about the delegating powers of the NSPCA. What was the logic and motivation behind this? Were the officials failing at their duties? Did they not have enough capacity? And if these delegated powers were going to government departments, would they be able to take on the added responsibility? Had the two departments done a comparison of their legislation and mandates to find if there were overlaps?

Chairperson Mandela asked about the confusion between the two departments since it had presented that there was no overlap in the mandates and legislation. If the HLP was mistaken in the animal welfare recommendations, did that mean there were no implementation challenges for the animal protection and animal welfare legislation? He asked which department was responsible for issuing licences for game farms or game lodges and for the various Acts that governed the treatment of animals as mentioned by HLP.

Could the department’s interventions which were not satisfactory and sufficient be addressed by developing norms and standards or regulations under the 1962 Act or otherwise in the draft animal bill. The department had to indicate what it sought to achieve with the Animal Welfare Bill; were there intentions to repeal the Act with the new Bill. At what stage was the Department planning to involve external stakeholders and animal welfare experts in the development of the Bill. What was the status of the 2019 regulations that classified more than 13 wildlife species that formed the basis of the HLP work? What informed the listing of the wildlife species as farm animals?

Chairperson Muthambi asked the department about having a comprehensive framework addressing animal welfare since the current legislation was fragmented. It was high time that they had a framework that comprehensively addressed animal protection, health and welfare, whether domestic or wild. The framework would then specify who does what. DALRRD could have been a custodian because it was already responsible for the bulk of animal matters. The ruling of the National Council of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v Minister of Environmental Affairs in 2019 said that although the Minister might not have a legislative mandate to regulate welfare in terms of NEMBA, it was to be considered in decision-making processes. Examples of such decisions were the approval or refusal of permits, contracts and registrations of facilities. How many registrations had been turned down after the 2019 ruling and how many lion breeding facilities were shut down? Could the Department clarify the tangible impacts of the ruling on biodiversity permits and facilities?

The welfare of animals including wild animals in captivity or under control of a person was regulated in the Animals Protection Act of 1992 and the Performing Animals Act of 1935. Were the capture and the transportation of wildlife animals regulated by the two Acts? What remaining aspects of wildlife needed legislation if it had been already covered by animal wellbeing under the NEMBA? She asked about the difference between animal welfare and animal wellbeing.

South Africa had the National Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa in terms of Section 9 of NEMBA dealing with the different aspects of elephant life in a cradle to the grave approach including the duty of care for the species. Where did those norms and standards fit relative to animal welfare? It had been suggested that the powers for welfare be given to a broader group of suitably qualified people to support welfare compliance. It was a good idea in the context of the proposed One Welfare system.

What did the Department have in mind in establishing a One Welfare system? Were the welfare inspectors recognised as a legitimate and unique profession or registered? Were they suggesting a review of all the fragmented pieces of welfare legislation to consolidate into one new Act? Why was it not using the current Bill that DALRRD was working on to achieve this? What was the thinking behind the One Welfare system? One view had been that the two departments work out a modality of establishing the One Welfare system and how it would work in the real world and revert to the two Portfolio Committees. Another idea was to facilitate from the side of the Committee. Were the captive lion breeders for hunting and lion bone aware of the recommendation and what was their stand? What was the status of the lion breeding industry?

DALRRD response
Dr Mphane Molefe, DALRRD Director: Veterinary Public Health, replied about the timeframes saying the implementation of the High-Level Panel report extended to the Animal Welfare Bill. The target was to bring the Bill to Parliament in 2023 to ensure that it undertook wide consultation. The animal welfare colloquium was set for between April and June 2022. By the end of this week, DALRRD would publish a request for welfare organisations to submit their names to know who was available. It was not possible to include everybody, but the departments were going to have to find a system to be able to select and engage. The Bill was to be brought in the next financial year 2023/24. Some of the matters were going to be discussed at the colloquium and it was expected that the Wildlife Welfare Forum would set other timeframes. It was separate from the animal welfare colloquium, but the Forum was coming up this week or the following week.

On the meeting between the two departments, the records were available. Some issues discussed would be the MOU finalisation which would also touch on welfare matters. Outside of those meetings were informal meetings such as calls between the departments. Those meetings did not have records. There were emails to show that the departments had been interacting. He had not noted the total number of meetings because some of them were informal.

On 'cultural diversity', there were no definite cases but there was a possibility of that occurring. Some people viewed the slaughtering of animals to appease their ancestors and they would want the animal to bellow, as they take it that the bellowing was communication with the ancestors. While a scientist might argue is that the animal is feeling pain and therefore, they needed to do something about it. There was a possibility not to have both sides agree but rather compromise.

DALRRD was not responsible for the sapient animal criteria, but it had been mentioned in the HLP Report. The Department could not respond to how it came up with such a position. Sapient meant the ability of an animal to feel pain and to have feelings; however, lower-class animals could not fit into those criteria. Their inclusion would mean an impossible task to enforce the Act if all animals are included. On the timelines, the Department was internally drafting the Bill and it would bring in the panel of experts to craft a public consultation document. It would be sent out for public consultation and thereafter the consolidation of inputs. There was no specific date, but the plan was to ensure the Bill was in Parliament in 2023.

There was ongoing training of officials and that was contained in their performance agreement and personal development plans. It was expected they include animal welfare in their training and personal development plans. The Department was committed to exposing officials to the training even if it meant going outside for best practice.

Incorporating OIE standards certainly formed the background to the development of the Animal Welfare Bill and every matter they were dealing with. The Department was a member of the OIE and president of the national assembly therefore it had to abide by the standards especially those that were relevant because some were different in terms of cultural diversity.

On the concurrent and overlapping mandates, there was no overlapping mandate in terms of animal welfare. The 2019 judgment clearly stated that even though DFFE did not have the animal welfare legislative mandate, whenever it made decisions that affect animals, it had to consider animal welfare. Animal legislation was under DALRRD and not anywhere else. The overlaps could have been in performing an activity with an element of animal welfare. Only DALRRD was responsible for animal legislation. DFFE was pushing for an amendment to NEMBA that will contain 'animal wellbeing'.

Dr Molefe replied about the rating of South Africa by the World Animal Protection, which is a private organisation and a country is not bound to its standards or scoring. However, it has noted this. The organisation reported that South Africa had legislation but there was a shortcoming in amending the legislation and implementing some – which had led to a D score. The legislation review process that the Department had started would help it achieve a higher score.

On not rushing the Animal Welfare Bill, the regulations covered the gaps at the moment. There was existing legislation that allowed the Minister to make regulations. The Department would be able to make regulations if DFFE looked at the HLP Report which said it needed to develop a particular area because there was an animal welfare consideration. DALRRD would then make a regulation for that. The experts would develop the regulation and then it would be promulgated by the Minister and then enforced. The Department was confident that the Act in existence would cover gaps including the HLP Report that had identified some gaps. The animal welfare organisations had the right to say to DALRRD there was an area where they wanted regulations to be made; DALRRD would ultimately draft regulations.

There was no government funding going to NSPCA. On extending the NSPCA power to other bodies, it was not only government organisations but rather inclusive of all animal welfare organisations. On government organisations having enough capacity if this was extended to them, because of the wide scope of the organisations the pool should be able to authorise the Act. It was not limited to government or NGOs only.

DFFE had not currently made recommendations on the Bill. The concern about DFFE not being part of the Animal Welfare Bill working group was a matter they were engaging in over the last few months. There had not been a meeting of the working group since then where they could engage with a DFFE  representative to give the DFFE take on Animal Welfare Bill. They are intending to do so as soon as possible.

The Department would make the University of Pretoria course details available to the Committee.

The animal welfare colloquium was one of the ways that would be used for the identification of gaps. On the question about animals not included in the Animals Protection Act, it covered all wild animals in someone’s custody, even exotic animals. On whether wildlife organisations were on board, they had not been brought into the Animal Welfare Bill working group. They would be brought on board in the animal welfare colloquium.

On the logic behind the delegation of powers of the NSPCA, there was a chance there would have been a challenge by other levels of government such as at province or national level as well. The authorisation would consider the capacity of the organisation. It was better to authorise them where there was capacity. The Department was to look into the Constitution and other legislation to ensure that they were not authorising someone who would oppose the animal welfare mandate. There would be an SOP on how to do that. The Department wanted to expand it beyond the NPSCA because it could not manage to cover the country and be able to enforce the legislation. It was not saying that the NPSCA is failing. The HLP highlighted a deficiency in who implements the Act. It would have been more relevant if DFFE was allowed to implement the Act because it was at the coal face of the wildlife. In that space you would not want to call on the NSPCA when there was a DFFE official who could be authorised to enforce that Act.

On implementation challenges, even though there was legislation, there were no specific provisions to address specific challenges. Therefore they were going to draft regulations that would be addressing specific mandates. DALRRD would not be able to be experts on everything to do with animal welfare. Wildlife expertise was in DFFE while the legislation was in DALRRD. DFFE would draft legislation that would be brought into the Animal Protection Act for the Minister to promulgate and the DFFE would then help implement the Act hence dealing with these challenges.

The Animal Welfare Bill had been talked about since 2016 because after the last amendment of the Performing Animals Protection Act, Members of Parliament had said that the 1935 Act was very old. The instructions were to bring in new legislation that consolidated the different provisions and bring in best practice and research findings and the OIE standards. The Bill would not have specifics but rather be enabling legislation so out of that norms and standards could be developed. On the regulations on classification of species, it was not under the Animal Improvement Act and it was not under his competency because it did not deal with animal welfare. The matter had been discussed by the two ministers and the industry was also informed of the findings and the rules and the enforcement about bringing in more species. The Registrar of Animal Improvement declared that the matter had been clarified to the industry and that it had been pronounced on by the two ministers in 2021. They would seek out further information on this.

On the Acts being old, the Animal Welfare Bill was there to address that exact concern to have one framework so that all animal welfare matters would be housed under the same document.

On a welfare inspector as a profession, the South African Veterinary Council recognised a qualification as veterinarian welfare assistant. They are trained at UNISA for six months to a year. They are recognised to enforce animal welfare provisions. It was an occupation, not a profession.

DALRRD Director-General, Mr Ramasodi Mooketsa, replied about the antiquated legislation. The legislation was old however the Protection of Performing Animals Act had been amended in 2016 by the Fifth Parliament and therefore it was recent legislation. The Animal Welfare Act had two issues to consider which were the cultural consideration and indigenous knowledge within the legislation review. One of the common criticisms against DALRRD was its insensitivity towards cultural considerations and to a greater extent indigenous knowledge. This was very important therefore it informed the Animal Welfare Bill consultation of communities and cultural groups. They would assist in making the Bill more responsive to the current existing situation as well as take best practice into consideration.

On NSPCA funding, the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1993 made provision for funding mechanisms in section 10 in that there was an expectation that the NSPCA would get funding from the societies registered with it. There were problems with that but one of the principles was that where an assignation was given, the assignee would be expected to have full responsibility for their funding. This created a self-funding mechanism that would be looking at financial gain from the work they would be doing. There might be problems that the NSPCA was going through but it would be important for it as a statutory body to engage with the Department on that matter. The concept of assigneeship in government meant you could have the ability to have assignees which helped to achieve a geographical spread that would help in the implementation of the legislation. NSPCA was established in the Act which is explicit about the funding mechanism.

On OIE compliance of the Department and its capacity to deal with animal welfare, DALRRD had an OIE analysis which stated that for the establishment of a well-versed animal welfare unit in the department, it needed 12 veterinarians, one for each province and three at national level. DALRRD had been trying to do it by restructuring the department. The 12 vets were to look at issues to do with agriculture but also look at animal welfare of wildlife animals so they have to double the numbers. Capacity is something they were going to address.

On the One Welfare system, it was to serve and highlight the interactions between animal welfare, human wellbeing, and the environment. It was a similar system to the One Health system in the country. The One Welfare system would entail that all departments involved in animal welfare, human wellbeing and environment would have to come together. This did not entail having one piece of legislation but rather just very good collaboration within the broader context. The coordination at that level would advance the nation toward the achievement of the Sustainable Goals to ensure there was a higher understanding and they were adding value to a high welfare standard.

On the collaboration between the two departments, they were advancing and were working with the State Law Advisers to ensure the Bill was certified and signed off. It would ensure that all the cross cutting issues were dealt with. Their principals were also having meetings to discuss matters in the land-agriculture-environment interface. Until 2019, the Fisheries and Forestry components had been with DALRRD, hence guaranteeing a closer relationship.

Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development response
Minister Thoko Didiza said that the Department would provide written responses for some of the matters that they were not able to respond to. She noted the concern about timeframes. Members might have felt the timelines were too long. However, enough consultation was required so they were able to take many South Africans on board. They were going to work on improving the relationship between the two departments and there were more issues that necessitated their collaboration.

Minister of  Forestry, Fisheries and Environment response
Minister Barbara Creecy said after the release of the High-Level Panel Report, it had been important to spend six months in 2021 consulting with the sector which included physical consultation, written and virtual consultations. There had been both general and specific meetings with the sectors such as with lion and rhino owners. The result of the consultation was that they had decided to go forward with the White Paper on Biodiversity Consultation and Sustainable Use. The White Paper was in the process of being concluded so it could go to cabinet. DFFE was aiming to table the White Paper in the National Assembly by the second term for consideration. They had received thousands of submissions on the draft White Paper.

The MOU was with the legal department at the moment, but they would be signing the MOU by the end of February 2022. On the Wildlife Welfare Forum, it had aims and objectives that were in draft form. Those were going to be tabled in the meeting on 28 February. Once they had been tabled, they would be passed to the Portfolio Committee. On the inter-ministerial committee, the decision at this stage was that they did not need that. They were handling relations on a bilateral basis, and they were not experiencing blockages in their relationship. Inter-ministerial committees were set up by the President and there was resistance within the cabinet system for setting up too many inter-ministerial committees. Where there was a need for cabinet mandates, the departments were using the cabinet cluster meetings. The existing cabinet committee was adequate for the decision making that was required in the process.

On indigenous knowledge, there was a whole section in the HLP Report that referred to the interface with indigenous knowledge specifically the relationship with traditional health practitioners. She had hosted a meeting with the traditional health practitioners, and they went through the HLP Report. They were very important in the implementation of the HLP Report and as a department, they did a lot of work with them.

DFFE response
Ms Mohlago Mokgohloa, DFFE Deputy Director-General: Biodiversity and Conservation, confirmed they had had six meetings with DALRRD and they were ongoing. They had had a meeting on 18 February on the finalisation of the MOU. On legislation, the NEMBA Bill had been held back considering the policy position. On norms and standards, they were reviewing the norms and standards as they were waiting for the White Paper completion. The development of norms and standards was a very consultative process. In the norms and standards, they had challenges with the strict requirements of the biodiversity management plans. The team was in the Eastern Cape engaging with stakeholders on the biodiversity management plan for elephants.

On the stakeholders for the Wildlife Welfare Forum, DFFE was engaging stakeholders that had made comments to the HLP and those that made comments on policy positions. They would be tabling the terms of reference for consideration by the Forum and consider other groupings. DFFE was also going to work with DALRRD since it was working on developing a database of animal welfare organisations. The focus would be animal welfare organisations that focused on wildlife.

Ms Mokgohloa explained that a single source provider was a provider who had specific (unclear: 3:03:23) and experience to be able to undertake the consultative process based (unclear: 03:03:39) methodology. On the differentiation between welfare and wellbeing, welfare was the physical and the mental of the animal while wellbeing was to do with the circumstances of the animal. On the leopard quotas, the issuing authorities submitted their information on the numbers to the scientific authority which determines the quotas (unclear 3:04:42). The quotas that had been issued were 10 leopards over seven years old. So far, DFFE was aware of over 100 facilities in North West and Free State. They were keeping about 600 to 9000 of the lions. None of the facilities were shut down. The permits for opening and shutting down of facilities were issued by the provinces and they had a legislative tool to shut them down. As indicated, DFFE was engaged in the policy process which would enable the Department to effect the provision to shut down the facilities. On intensive breeding of rhino (unclear 3:06:22). 

The Committee could not hear her and requested a written response due to the poor internet connection.

Further questions
Mr Singh made a comment that the Biodiversity White Paper was from 1997 which was 25 years ago. He was hoping the Minister could give them hope that something was going to happen.

Minister Creecy replied that there was a decision not to pursue it at this time.

Mr Bryant asked when the Registrar of Animal Improvement had provided a presentation. He did not recall it so he wanted more clarity.

On permits for game farms, why had they said that DFFE issued the permits when it was clearly DALRRD. Were there no game farms registered under the Animal Improvement Act of 1998? He thought the two departments should determine how permits for game farms were issued in provinces and how these would be regulated. On the basis that DALRRD published regulations listing wildlife as farm animals, was it not responsible for game farming? How was the NSPCA expected to carry out its mandate without financial support?

Ms Phillips wanted confirmation for the date of the animal welfare colloquium and when the terms of reference would be made.

Mr Masipa commented that municipalities still passed bylaws dealing with domesticated animals. Thus it was incorrect to say there was no concurrent function with municipalities on animal welfare.

Ms Muthambi said that the animal welfare colloquium would be on 18 March 2022. The question was who was going to host it since most of the issues sat with DALRRD. They would discuss it in their next meeting and revert to the departments. Many matters were cross cutting that needed a structured response to work in synergy and achieve the desired outcome such as the restitution of land rights. This meeting was just the beginning of their engagement, and they would communicate to the Department how they were going to work. All outstanding responses were to be provided in writing by the departments.

iSimangaliso Wetland update
Minister Creecy said that the matter of the management of the St Lucia estuary fell in the domain of the Estuary Management Authority. She highlighted that they were close to finalising the expert's report on the matter of the estuary mouth being artificially breached. The expert panel was selected because there was contestation between those of the persuasion that there should not have been interference and others of the persuasion that they were to interfere. That was the question the panel of experts was trying to answer. There were ecological, hydrological, social, and economic considerations to do with the estuary management practice. The panel of experts reviewed the evidence. It was the only way to come up with an appropriate solution to the problem because it was complex. The matter had been resolved in court in 2016. The matter was also given attention at the St Lucia colloquium in 2019. The matter was deliberated on after the colloquium took a decision. They had to allow the panel of experts to conclude its work and produce a report which would be put before her by the end of March 2022. The panel was on track and was not going to be asking for an extension.

Mr Sibusiso Bukhosini, CEO, iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, noted iSimangaliso had made a presentation on 8 February 2022 and he was going to talk to that.

Mr Singh raised a concern that the Committee already knew the history of the matter. They were interested in seeing the plea of the people in that area answered because of the socioeconomic impact the estuary had on them. They required immediate assistance such as the cleaning of the river and the drains to address the problem while the expert panel worked on the long-term solution. The Committee resolution had been for it to return with a solution within seven days to tell them why it could not clean the river and the drains as a temporary measure.

Mr P Modise (ANC), as Acting Chairperson, stated that it was best not to presuppose what was going to be presented; there would have been additions.

Ms Phillips reinforced what Mr Singh had said. The court case had nothing to do with the clearing of the rivers but had been about opening the estuary mouth artificially. The court case only involved commercial farmers and it did not address the concerns of the small farmers, the tourism sector, or the fishers. The court case had made a lot of reliance on the DFFE project. The project had since been completed and it turned into unmitigated disaster where the sand that was pumped away was deposited back on the banks by the sea. This made the bank higher. The people needed an immediate solution and people could not wait for another six weeks. If iSimangaliso could not help them with the cleaning, was there some financial assistance it could render as disaster relief?

Mr Bukhosini said that ideally before they respond they address certain facts. The first fact was that all the farms they were talking about were on a flat plain. The Umfolozi River under discussion was not in the iSimangaliso area of mandate, it was canalised. The flat plain had not been serving its ecological function as it had used to. All the sediment in the estuary was no longer being stopped from entering the system.

Another fact was that the estuary had been interfered with for many years. What was key with the court case was that despite where they were breaching, if they were to breach for any other purpose that breaching would be considered unlawful in the regulatory framework. So, if there were to do maintenance of the estuary, they had to do it in accordance with the approved estuary management plan and applicable legislative framework. The farms were inundated with water and the businesses and livelihoods were grossly affected. It was important to note the report of the estuary management plan where it said that the estuary was category D because it had largely been modified. It also recognized the estuary as very important giving it a score of 93.

If they were to do anything to the estuary, it would have been in accordance with the plan. Post the DFFE project there were concerns about inundation of water in the farms, mosquitoes, small scale farmers were not on a scale to farm because of the flooding. Some scientific concerns were that if nothing was done, the estuary would change into a lake and then into a wetland which no one wanted. That resulted in several engagements with traditional authorities, farmers, the business fraternity and other representatives. All the people pointed to a solution that was in line with legislation.

The symposium came up with resolutions and recognized that the system was under pressure, and that DFFE project had its own limitations which made it a freshwater lake situation. There was a need for an assisted breach to be conducted and the beach skimmed to allow the water to flow during heavy rain seasons. That exercise led to the opening of the mouth on 5 January 2022 led to the flow from the sea into the estuary and the removal of silt into the sea which was monitored. The decision where to open was an issue because the area where they could open according to the estuary management plan suggested an area that was closer to the mouth and that was where the opening took place. The opening was for ecological reasons. The court ruled that iSimangliso could perform that for ecological reasons only.

Deliberations in the symposium were that if the efforts did not ease the pressure, they were all going to own up that it had not. But because the symposium agreed that it was an adaptive management system that was to be implemented, they were going to see how the system would behave through the data collected and monitoring. The data would reveal the effectiveness of the activity undertaken. The third long term resolution of the symposium was the climate change adaptation strategy that needed to be developed to manage contributing factors such as global warming.

On 13 January 2022, an open letter from a group of scientists was written to the Minister raising concern about the breaching activities. Upon that, the Minister decided to appoint an independent panel of scientist, social scientist and businesspeople to investigate and to provide the Minister with a response on whether the intervention complied with the estuary management plan. The panel of experts had been on the ground interviewing stakeholders, and iSimangliso had been interviewed. The Minister was waiting for the report at the end of March. If iSimangliso got pressure to go and clean the system, it would basically mean that they needed to remove the silt manually and remove the reeds. It would have to go back to monitor and manage the back-flooding. That could only be done in accordance with the Estuary Management Plan. In the absence of the panel of experts report to determine if the breaching actions were done in accordance with the regulations, the difficulty would be that if there were to act without the panel of experts report they would raise other concerns. This is because iSimangliso is a world heritage site. There is a state of conservation report that has to be submitted to UNESCO on regular basis. The artificial breaching complaint had been raised with UNESCO and it is aware that the Minister is awaiting the report. If they were to skip the process of the panel of experts report, it would mean that they were being delinquent as iSimangaliso to the prescripts. That was where they were, and it was not that iSimangliso and the Minister were against what the Committee had proposed. It was that they were going to have to investigate the regulatory framework to see if that action was warranted.

Discussion
Mr N Singh (IFP) highlighted that the CEO agreed in his presentation that businesses and livelihoods were grossly affected. The question was how they were going to respond in the short term? What did the estuary management plan entail, what were the impediments to cleaning the drains and reeds, did the plan prohibit the cleaning? He appreciated the problem but he felt they were not responding to the desperate plight of the communities. He was in touch with the Amakosi in the area and they were fed up. iSimangaliso had to come up with a practical solution that they could talk to communities about.

Ms C Phillips (DA) emphasized that it was not the estuary they were talking about. It was the river and the drains. The inventions would be in the river and not the estuary. The challenge had been constant since the DFFE project. Was iSimangaliso putting UNESCO ahead of its residents? The wellbeing of South Africans was a priority. Was UNESCO going to help the people affected to survive? Would government do it? If not, how did they expect the people to live? They were going hungry, bankrupt, and lives were being lost. That was why there was the urgency, they needed a decision, and they needed a date. They had to show where in the Estuary Management Plan it denied them from cleaning the rivers.

Ms T Mchunu (ANC) agreed that the communities needed their attention. She also agreed with the Minister on getting the report recommendations. There was a need to consult the indigenous groups there. The consultation would ensure they made the right decision on where the mouth was to be opened. The farmers in the area had not been affected the same hence it was important to investigate it.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) asked what engagements iSimangaliso had had with the affected parties other than with the panel of experts and specialists.

iSimangaliso response
Mr Bukhosini replied that iSimangaliso understood the frustration as they had been on the ground. He agreed that indeed the livelihoods of people had been affected on the farms. However, the farms were on a flat plain and regardless they were going to be inundated with water. It was for that reason that commercial farmers were able to canalize the uMfolozi River but by doing so it affected others in the system. It was allowing water and debris to flow into the system which caused the sedimentation problems in the estuary. The canalization of the uMfolozi River in the main flowed into the Msunduzi. The canalization took water from Mfolozi to Msunduzi hence the farms of the small-scale farmers got affected. The small-scale farmers did not have the ability to drain that water.

On practical solutions, Mr Bukhosini replied that due to the complexity of the problem it should not have been a problem of iSimangaliso and the DFFE alone. The problem started with the Land Affairs Department allowing farmers to farm on the flat plain. That was a problem of government and it had to take responsibility and find solutions for it. It was very hard to find a solution. The area referred to by Ms Phillips was an area that was not in the iSimangaliso mandate. If they were to do that, they needed authorisation from the relevant department which would be Water and Sanitation. It was not a single department/entity issue, but it was different departments. This required a government approach rather than a department approach.

There had been several engagements with the affected parties on the basis that iSimangaliso had a stakeholder engagement strategy that sought to ensure it engaged with all partners and stakeholders on the management of iSimangaliso. The Amakosi that were mainly affected were Inkosi Sokhulu as well as Inkosi Mkhwanazi. Inkosi Sokhulu had established his own delegation and he had started working with the delegation. Inkosi Mkhwanazi had done the same. They had been reporting on a regular basis on the challenges they were experiencing.

iSimangaliso was not ignoring or undermining the plight of the communities rather whatever it did it had to do within the prescribed regulatory framework for maintaining world heritage status which had high economic impacts in the province and the country for tourism and other opportunities. The only possible solution was alternative land because artificial dredging did not solve the problem. Land reallocation would allow those in agricultural activities to farm without disturbance. As long as they farmed close to the estuary they would be disturbed and there would be losses.

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) asked about the attendance of the affected farmers at the engagements. Were they easily accessible to small-scale farmers?

Mr N Singh (IFP) asked if there was another solution since the farmers had been allowed to be there and had been earning a livelihood. It seemed that the challenge was going to continue since it wanted to preserve the pristine nature of the estuary. This was one area they had to investigate about giving people land on the flood plain. Was there another solution?

The Acting Chairperson asked if alternative land had already been identified for the people to move to; what would be the financial impact. If there was to be a multi-stakeholder process, how far had the process progressed and, if not, by when? Were the conversations with the stakeholders ongoing and what was their response and how was it with UNESCO?

Mr Bukhosini replied that the meetings with the stakeholder were not for mere compliance; they took their stakeholders seriously. They had developed a stakeholder engagement strategy which was monitored by the board and the Department in its implementation. The people sent to them by the Inkosi were represented and could be seen in the minutes. They were truly contributing, and they had historical knowledge of the system itself.

In response to Mr Singh, Mr Bukhosini said that the matter had to be elevated to government to step in and brainstorm solutions. The stakeholders would have to be part of this approach so that the proposed solutions were those that included their views and opinions.

iSimangaliso had not identified alternative land and could not speak on the financial implications. However, it had tried to secure a meeting with the Department of Land Affairs to start engaging on the matter. On the multi-stakeholder forum, it was a matter they had talked about. UNESCO was checking the extent iSimangaliso was still managing the heritage site in accordance with the regulations. They would monitor in terms of the state conservation report.

Minister Creecy said sustainable development was the founding principle of environmental laws and there were three aspects: environmental protection, economic development, and social upliftment. This fundamental principle had to guide everything that was done. That was the reason the panel had people from all groups reach a conclusion since it had been under debate for a while. The panel had proper guidelines to uphold sustainable development. The experts had visited the people on the ground and ultimately, they would have pointers on the management of the estuary and the catchment.

Once the panel of experts report was out, they would resolve the issue holistically. The report would be thorough and then they would start to engage with the other departments. DFFE was committed to ensuring that iSimangaliso lived in harmony with its neighbours and they benefited from each other. Where there were matters extraneous to the Park, she would use her relationships in broader government to resolve these.

Conclusion
The Acting Chairperson remarked that the Committee agreed to wait for the report for their action.

Mr Singh made an appeal that the panel of experts report come sooner than later. The report would help when they made an oversight visit to the area.

Ms Phillips said it was not a decision of the Committee. She was disappointed that there were no immediate solutions for the small farmers and fishers in the area and they had to wait another few weeks without income.

Ms Mchunu agreed about waiting for the report that was going to assist with a solution for all those in the area. She encouraged the engagement of the Portfolio Committee on these matters.

Mr Paulsen said the Department had to do something to assist those affected.

The Acting Chairperson advised that the Committee wait for the report recommendations.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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