Forestry Laws Amendment Bill: Department briefing

Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


24 August 2005

Rev P Moatshe (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Department PowerPoint presentation on Forestry Amendment Bill
Forestry Amendment Bill [B24 – 2005]
Draft Forestry Amendment Bill [B – 2004]
Veld and Forest Fires Act of 1998
Wattle Industry Act of 1960
National Forestry Act of 1998

The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry briefed the Committee on the Draft Forestry Amendment Bill [B24-2005]. It was a composite of three Acts: the National Forestry Act of 1998 which dealt with the sustainable use, management and protection of forests; the Veld and Fire Act of 1998 which dealt with the prevention and combating of veld fires; and the Wattle Industry Act of 1960 which controlled the wattle bark industry. The most substantive change proposed was the establishment of a trust to invest rentals received from lessees, for the rightful owners of the land. The Committee felt that more consultation was needed with affected communities before the amendments could be passed.


Department briefing
Ms J Kock, Department Deputy-Director: Forestry Regulation, explained the Forestry Laws Amendment Bill which proposed amendments to three pieces of legislation: The National Forestry Act of 1998, the Veld and Forest Fires Act of 1998, and the Wattle Bark Industry Act of 1960. She discussed what was being amended, the process, each proposed amendment, and the proposed Trust provisions. The latter was the most substantive part of the Bill.

The Portfolio Committee had made very strong recommendations about the need to consult rural communities affected by the Bill. To this end the Department was engaging in a consultation process with these communities. It was doing this by using existing forums to interact with them. Firstly, they should use Participatory Management Forums – committees created at local level between forestry staff and rural communities meeting on a regular basis. Secondly, there needed to be community liaison structures to assist with the lease management process, and thirdly, new Fire Protection Associations with representatives from the rural communities.

Ms Kock discussed the proposed amendments (see document). One important change was that the proposed Bill allowed for the extension of the Minister’s powers to make provision for exemptions for licenses for use of protected trees, and this was very empowering for rural communities. It allowed them to make use of the forests for domestic purposes (not commercial) without the necessity to obtain licenses.

Regarding the Veld and Forest Fires Act, she noted that the amendments were not substantive but changed the provisions for the fire rating system, and the communication channels used to alert communities to fire hazards. She pointed out that the Act dealt with the combating of fire in rural areas, not municipal areas.

She explained that the Wattle Bark Industry Act predated 1994 and many provisions were no longer in line with the democratic government. The amended Act would provide for the Minister to arrange an agreement between growers and manufacturers to regulate the wattle industry. Other agricultural activities had already been deregulated but the wattle industry had not. The Act as it stood was in contravention of the Competitions Act as well as the rules governing competition. The amendment would repeal the provisions that currently regulated this industry.

The Trust Provision was the most substantive change and required careful deliberation. Mr Malatsi, Senior Manager, Forestry Regulation, explained that it would enable the Minister to establish a trust. This was needed for the following reasons: the Department was restructuring and plantations were being leased to private companies. Only the trees were sold, but the land was still state-owned. Land was leased to private companies at market related prices and at present rental income was kept in a suspense account. Treasury had informed the Department that this was incorrect, as it was not state money. About R65 million had been accumulated and Treasury had advised the formation of a trust to manage these funds until all land claims had been settled, and ownership was formalised. The amendment was necessary to allow the Minister to form a trust to manage the funds until the communities were legalised.

There were at present about 250 land claims, some of which might fall away, or become amalgamated into one claim. The Department of Land Affairs was examining the Communal Land Rights Act. Where communities around forests had not lodged land claims they still had some rights, and these rights would be investigated. The process of land claims was slow, and because of this the Department was not sure who the rightful owners of the land were. In the meantime rentals had to be managed. Communities had to be assisted by the formation of trusts so that they could access these funds. It was a requirement of the PFMA that entities to which the Department paid money had to have systems in place to allow for auditing.

Mr A Watson (DA) pointed out that Ms Kock had referred to separate acts for municipal and rural areas but in terms of the three spheres of government there was no longer rural land, as municipalities were wall-to-wall. He asked if this contradiction had been addressed?

Ms Kock replied that this observation was correct but that what she had meant was that urban municipal areas were served by fire brigades. As the resources for fire fighting in rural areas were limited the Department had needed to create structures to serve these areas. The Fires Act had provided for the formation of voluntary Fire Protection Associations in rural areas not served by fire brigades. Advocate M Mathipa, Department Head of the Legal Section, added that it was correct that municipalities were ‘wall-to-wall’. The Fires Act covered forest and rural areas. It was not a service but a regulation of how fires were to be managed so the distinction was not in terms of area, but in terms of function.

Mr Watson asked why consultations had only been made with the SA Agricultural Union, and not AGRISA, and the National African Farmers' Union (NAFU), the organisation for emerging farmers. He expressed concern that these groups had not been consulted, particularly the emerging farmers. Ms Kock replied that the Bill had initially been prepared two years ago so this list had been followed. However, as the Department became aware of new groups who should be consulted, this was done. The Department had also requested notification from interested parties or groups who should be consulted.

Advocate Mathipa noted that the Portfolio Committee had requested that the Department specifically target the rural communities affected. Mr Watson observed that with the dramatic changes in South Africa, AGRISA had emerged as a breakaway group from the SA Agricultural Union. The latter group had been opposed to transformation. He felt AGRISA and the emerging farmers should have been consulted. He added that the instructions from the Portfolio Committee were not the final word, and that the Select Committee was just as much a part of Parliament.

Reverend Moatshe, Chairperson, asked whether consultations were still in progress. The process should be concluded by involving all stakeholders. He had also felt, when reading the Bill, that rural communities had not been adequately involved in the process.

Ms M Oliphant (ANC) observed that the restructuring seemed to be focusing on the leasing of land to private companies. It was time to hand over some land to the communities, especially ex-forestry workers who had good experience in forestry. She also asked if consultations were still in progress and whether further changes would be made to the Bill as a result of these recommendations.

Mr Malatsi replied that restructuring had begun in 1998 with the division of plantations into three categories. Category A were economically viable plantations; Category B were plantations which needed to be handed over to business entities in joint ventures with communities; Category C were plantations which the Department wanted to devolve completely to rural communities. Discussions were taking place with rural communities on how to restructure for their benefit. No Category B or C plantations had yet been handed over to the communities, although one, in KwaZulu-Natal, was at an advanced stage, and should be handed over by the end of this year. The purpose of the consultations was to obtain the views of the communities and incorporate their proposals into the Amendment Bill.

Mr L van Rooyen (ANC) asked how the amendments to the Forestry Act would impact on the proposed Forestry Charter. Advocate Malatsi replied that the amendments would not affect the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) charter. The latter dealt with black empowerment in the forestry industry while the Act dealt with forest management.

Mr Watson asked whether the Act affected private forests or only state and natural forests. Ms Kock replied that the Act applied to all natural/indigenous forests on all land. The purpose was not to prohibit the use of forests, but to regulate it.

Ms Oliphant pointed out that in some rural areas there was no electricity and people were cutting down natural forests for fuel. She asked how it would be possible to control this, also bearing in mind that the communities were forced by circumstance to do this. The Chairperson asked whether people in these very remote areas would be expected to travel long distances to obtain permission to cut a few pieces of wood.

Ms Kock replied that these were very pertinent questions. The Department had paid an educational visit to India, which faced similar challenges to South Africa. The matter of how to regulate use, but also open up participation for those who need resources, was one of the first purposes of the Forestry Act. It set out to promote community participation, and created opportunities in the industry, especially for disadvantaged groups. It was a balancing act, structured to provide for management, protection and sustainability while also realising that the poor rural communities needed to make use of the resource.

Mr Watson commented that Members of the Committee had also visited India. The law in India only allowed for the removal of dead wood. As a result, people were going into the forests, cutting off branches and waiting for them to die before removing them. He asked for the definition of "indigenous forest" – did it include the Bushveld, and areas around Hazyview and Mpumalanga?

Ms Kock replied that the definition was difficult. At present it was defined as "a group of trees with a closed canopy" but the Department was currently examining the definition. The Act provided for the protection of specific indigenous trees and a list had been gazetted in August 2005. The proposed amendments provided for exemptions especially in rural areas. The Act provided for blanket exemptions for all communities living around forests so that they could collect for livelihood needs (firewood, traditional medicine) but not for commercial purposes.

Mr R Tau (ANC) was not clear on the outcome of consultations with rural communities. In India local co-operatives had been formed around forests, giving the communities the responsibility of caring for their forests. He asked if it was possible to do this in South Africa.

Ms Kock emphasised the importance of devolving management and responsibility of the forest areas to the local communities. It was not possible to manage forests from Pretoria. Communities could approach the Minister and request an agreement to manage a particular forest. The Act required that the communities should constitute themselves and have rules to enable the Minister to engage with them. It was therefore possible, legally, to devolve management. The process of negotiating such agreements had begun in some areas. The biggest challenge was to bring the Minister of Finance into the negotiations to ensure that money earned was directed to the community, and not into the National Revenue Fund.

The Chairperson observed that he did not think that the Department had really started going into rural areas. It needed serious consideration, and the people of South Africa should take responsibility for the care of forests.

Mr van Rooyen asked what progress had been made with Dukuduku Forest near St Lucia. Mr Malatsi replied that it was being managed from the region. Negotiations were continuing and there had been agreements in the past that had not been fulfilled. No solution had been found and the issue was complicated by land claims. The community wanted these finalised before taking a decision to move out of the forest. Land claims would be resolved in the next two to three years and this would help solve the forestry problem.

Regarding the fire rating system, Mr N Mack (ANC) asked what the difference was between "high" and "extreme"? Mr Malatsi replied that a "high" warning allowed people to continue their normal activities while an "extreme" warning stopped activity in the area affected. Mr Watson asked if the new ratings were in line with neighbouring countries, and had any consultation taken place with them.

Mr Malatsi replied that the Department had examined a number of systems in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. The USA model had been most suitable to South Africa, with certain adjustments for local conditions. At present the Department was in the process of getting a memorandum of agreement between neighbouring countries. This would detail methods of dealing with cross border fires.

Advocate Mathipa noted concerns regarding the number of radio and television stations to be used for fire warnings. Mr Mack pointed out that in remote areas like Die Hel there was no radio station and asked what form of communication would be used. Mr Malatsi replied that because of this problem landowners in red areas (prone to fires) were being encouraged to form Fire Protection Associations. They would then receive fire warnings and make members aware of these. Mr Watson added that the Act was not providing for remote rural areas and the amendment should allow for other forms of communication.

Mr Malatsi replied that the Fire Protection Associations were a requirement of the Act itself. It was the Department’s duty to make communities aware of the need to form such associations. This provision did therefore cover remote areas.

Mr Watson still did not understand the amendment in the Veld and Forest Fires Act (Section 10(1)(b)) and proposed that the phrase "other means of communication" should be used. Ms Kock replied that the Fires Act provided for different institutions to manage fire, apart from the Department. Fire Protection Associations brought this to the local level and they could communicate in whatever way possible.

Mr van Rooyen asked whether the investments in the Trust would be handled by a financial adviser. If the investment made a loss, who would be responsible? Mr Malatsi replied that the money would not be invested with commercial institutions The interest would be paid to the rightful owners, and the Department would not charge administration fees for the management of rentals. The trust would be managed and budgeted through the normal processes.

Ms Oliphant asked whether the trust would be dissolved after the finalisation of land claims. Mr Malatsi replied that the dissolution of the trust would have to be negotiated with each community. Some communities might want the Department to continue managing the funds and lease agreements. There was also some concern from the tenants, such as the Komati lease. This involved thousands of communities, and huge benefits for all. In this case the tenants wished to deal with the government. The government would then represent the communities, and the tenant could deal with one entity. The requirements of the communities would be taken into account.

Ms Oliphant requested that the Department re-examine the issue of trusts. She felt that once land claims had been finalised the trusts should be dissolved, and the communities should form their own trusts and administer their own affairs.

The Chairperson pointed out that as this was a Section 75 Bill it would not be going to the Provincial
Councils. Mr Watson asked why it was tagged as a Section 75 Bill when it affected such a wide range of land. Mr T Brutus (Parliamentary Liaison Officer for the Water Affairs and Forestry Department) said that the tagging might change. Mr Watson commented that this should be carefully monitored as the tagging mechanism sometimes ‘short-changed’ participants.

The Chairperson noted that further consultations with the affected communities were needed. Once this had been done, the amendments could be accepted. The Committee agreed.

The meeting was adjourned.


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