UNFCCC COP28 Report back; Detonations in Simon’s Town; Environmental challenges in Kabel-jous Conservation Area; CGE report; with Minister

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment

20 February 2024
Chairperson: Mr P Modise (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and Environment met online to receive briefings from various entities and civil society organisations.

The Commission for Gender Equality briefed the Portfolio Committee on the progress of transformation in the public and private sectors and in the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment and South African National Parks in particular. It found that there was a lack of representation of Indian and Coloured persons at the top managerial positions. There were no policies to encourage procurement of 40% of goods and services from women-owned enterprises. The Department’s policies on sexual harassment were gender-blind and outdated. South African National Parks had originally failed to submit sufficient documents to the Commission, but the Commission commended the great strides made by SANParks. However, it was not pleased with the racial representation and representation of people living with disabilities at SANParks.

The Portfolio Committee requested specific timeframes to finalise the sexual harassment cases. Members asked how many cases the Commission submitted to the National Prosecuting Authority were related to sexual harassment. It also asked whether the Commission decided to conduct investigations independent of any organ of state.

The Department briefed the Committee on the outcomes of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate UNFCCC Congress of the People 28 meeting in Dubai. The Minister was pleased overall with the outcomes because they reflected the complexities faced by developing countries regarding a just energy transition and building a climate-resilient country. She was also happy that there were formal negotiations on establishing a loss and damage fund and a global adaptation goal.

The Portfolio Committee commended the work done by the country’s delegation at the meeting. Was there any subsequent feedback on carbon border adjustment mechanisms? Members wondered whether South Africa should propose that host countries should have favourable just energy transition programmes.

The Greater Kabeljous Partnership Group requested the Committee a) to ensure that the Department expedites the process of transferring an environmentally important piece of state land to an organ of state with a conservation mandate; (b) to help expedite the formal declaration of the area as a provincial Nature Reserve; and (c) to call the officials responsible for delays in these processes to come and explain them.

The Portfolio Committee appreciated the presentation but deferred any decision until more information could be obtained.

The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa called on the Committee to halt or postpone detonations by the South African Navy in Simon’s Town until matters relating to protecting the African penguin colony were discussed. The Society was of the opinion that an alternative site could be found easily.

The Committee concluded that further engagements with the affected Departments were necessary.


Meeting report


Chairperson’s Opening Remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone to the meeting and accepted apologies from Ms Pam Yako, chairperson of the board, South African National Parks (SANParks), and Adv Nthabiseng Sepanya-Mogale, chairperson, Commission for Gender Equality (CGE).

CGE Progress Report on Transformation in the Public and Private Sectors 2022/2023
Dr Dennis Matotoka, acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), CGE, said that the CGE has a specific programme that dealt with transformation in the public and the private sectors. It was informed by a number of laws that aimed to foster transformation in the workplace, most importantly the Employment Equity Act. The accounting officers of public and private institutions were called to the CGE to explain how they dealt with the transformation matters in the workplace. “We look at their transformation policies, existing practices in the workplace, and the workforce to determine the extent to which they are implementing Employment Equity and transformation practices,” he said. He emphasised that transformation hearings not only focused on the numbers, but also on the ability of employers to provide an enabling environment, free from all forms of inequality. “We probe issues such as sexual harassment and gender blind or insensitive policy frameworks, and then make definite recommendations which we expect the institutions to comply with”. He said that for the past ten years, CGE had discovered that there was still paucity of representation of previously disadvantaged groups in higher position levels in workplaces. Sexual harassment issues also remained highly prevalent, and policies were often “cut and paste,” seemingly drafted for compliance purposes only. There was no commitment to ensuring that persons with disabilities were represented at various occupational levels in the workplace.

Mr Tsietsi Shuping, acting Head of Legal Services, CGE, discussed issues pertaining to the DFFE and SANParks in particular.

The CGE investigated employment equity and transformation at the DFFE in 2021. Its findings included:
- No representation of Coloured and Indian persons at the top management level. Further, in all the representation levels, the Indian women and men were found to be the least represented and black women and men were overrepresented.
- There was no policy that had been developed to enable women entrepreneurs to participate more fully in public procurement markets. The DFFE procured less than 40% of its goods and or services from women-owned entities during any financial year.
- There were three sexual harassment cases reported at the workplace from January 2019 until the time of the hearing, and two were pending finalisation then.
- The DFFE had outdated policies that were gender-blind. Its Sexual Harassment Policy was outdated and relied on the Code of Good Practice of 1998 instead of the 2005 Code of Good Practice. However, the 2022 Code of Good Practice was in place.

The CGE dispatched a questionnaire on gender transformation to SANParks in 2021. Due to insufficient information submitted by SANParks, the Commission was unable to establish the state of transformation at SANParks. SANParks was directed to submit numerous documents (see presentation, page 36) within six months of appealing before the Commission. SANParks reviewed its policies and submitted them to the CGE. The policies and programmes were in line with the CGE’s recommendations. The CGE noted the great strides made by SANParks and its willingness and commitment to transforming its workplace. However, the achievement of racial representation and people living with disabilities at SANParks remained a concern.

See attached for full presentation

Ms A Weber (DA) welcomed the report. She called for the CGE to insist that institutions finalise sexual harassment cases within specific timeframes for both the victim's and perpetrator’s sakes. “When a woman has been sexually harassed, it is torturous to be working in the same environment where the disciplinary action is taking place over long periods.” How could it be ensured that these delays did not affect the good spirits of co-workers?

Mr N Paulsen (EFF) said that CGE used to have a target of 30% expenditure on companies that were at least 51% women-owned. However, this target has been removed since last year. How would the CGE measure the progress of women-owned businesses if there was no target? “This has disadvantaged the contracting process.” He observed that 16 criminal investigations had been handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). How many of these cases were sexual harassment cases? How seriously were these actions viewed in the Department, especially those involving women in junior positions?

Mr D Bryant (DA) said that the Committee must not lose focus, and highlighted that retaining quality staff and fighting corruption was also of vital importance. He asked for some clarity on how the CGE undertook investigations. How did they arise? Who initiated them and why? He also asked the CGE to explain the difference between gender blind and gender neutral as it pertained to the outdated policies by the DFFE highlighted in the report.

Dr Matotoka said that the CGE was adamant that sexual harassment cases need to be handled timeously, according to a code of conduct established in 2005. He said that sexual harassment victims responded differently. Some were willing to lodge an immediate complaint, while others became traumatised and it therefore could take a bit of time before they felt able to report the matter to the human resources department. The legal process was often delayed too because of evidence requirements. The current code of practice emphasises the urgent need to hold and resolve such matters as soon as possible, and to avoid penalising those who did not report cases immediately. He said that employers were required to put protective and interim measures in place pending the investigation and conclusion of a sexual harassment case. He said that the 1998 Code of Conduct referred to in the DFFE and SANParks policies required that affected parties report immediately to avoid being penalised, while the current Code of Conduct allowed for reporting of sexual harassment “as soon as reasonably possible.” The CGE had noted the President’s announcement of a 40% target for women-owned businesses, but according to the results of its study, there had not been any commitment or achievement of the targeted 40% since the pronouncement was made. Gender-responsive budgeting must address the imbalance. However, a presidential pronouncement alone was insufficient for the Commission to enforce the procurement target. He was not certain how many cases reported to the NPA were related to sexual harassment. He said that the CGE had come a long way with SANParks regarding sexual harassment cases. Various workshop sessions were held in different SANParks facilities. He had facilitated one of the sessions himself and had come to understand that there was compliance in terms of ensuring that workshops were conducted, but he was concerned that the workshops were always held at lower levels, while most cases were levelled against senior managers rather than those in lower ranking position. Historically, there was resistance in senior management to undergoing training on sexual harassment. It was understood that having sexual harassment workshops was a “by the way” event rather than a compulsory and serious one. The CGE therefore advised that the sexual harassment workshops must be made mandatory for everyone. He stressed that transformation must not be one-sided. The leadership must be willing to attend transformation and gender sensitisation workshops so that they could be better placed to handle issues around gender in the workplace. Non-attendance at such workshops bred a culture of direct or indirect perpetuation of discriminatory practices. “You have some senior managers who have resigned and are found guilty. There should be zero tolerance from a policy point of view and through consequence management.” He added that one of the contributors to such cases is the change in leadership at SANParks, because the CGE was not satisfied with the preparedness of SANParks to engage with the CGE during the first hearing. “Their numbers in terms of sexual harassment cases did not tally. We were aware of numerous cases that were not presented to the Commission. There was a lack of disclosure around the extent and the total number of sexual harassment cases within SANParks. However, following our engagements, those issues have been addressed, and we continue to address them. It will be a work in progress until we are satisfied that SANParks is an enabling environment. We participated in the drafting of the sexual harassment policy to help SANParks develop an unimpeachable sexual harassment policy that caters to all the needs of all persons in the workplace.” He said that the comment on the shift of focus on competency and corruption is not for the CGE to respond to, but highlighted that the CGE did not in any way encourage the appointment of an incompetent person to a leadership position on the basis that they are a woman or disabled person. “The Act is very clear and says “suitably qualified persons.” Our concern is when suitably qualified persons are overlooked primarily on the basis of their gender.” He said that the inspections at SANParks revealed that management was resistant to undergoing sexual harassment training. “It was a red flag for us that warranted following the defined process of transformation in hearings, where we can call those accountable to explain how certain matters are handled at SANParks. I submit that this was a success because the issues we wanted to bring to the attention of the management were indeed going on.” He explained that outdated policies referred to policies that had not incorporated developments in the country. It was important for employers to ensure that they incorporated recent developments when they developed their policies. In the years from 1995 to 2020, there had been huge changes in terms of defining and handling sexual harassment. He said that any pronoun in the policy suggested that men were the only ones creating sexual harassment was misguided and gender blind. Any gender could commit sexual harassment. It was a misconception in that men were the only gender that committed sexual harassment in the workplace. Hence, references in policies to “he” should be replaced with “the perpetrator or the complaint.”

Follow-up question
Mr Bryant wanted to confirm whether the investigations were requested by anyone in government, or were they taken independently by the CGE without any prompting. He added that he was still confused about the terms “gender blind” versus “gender neutral” in the policies. He also wanted to know the reason for the under-representation of the Coloured and Indian people.

Dr Matotoka confirmed that there was no direct or indirect influence on the CGE’s choices of investigations from any organ of state. He explained that different private and public sector institutions came before the CGE every year, which was legislatively mandated to ensure workplace transformation. He said that there were persons who did not identify as male or female, which should be respected. “If a policy framework is written in terms of binary genders, those who do not conform to such categories are excluded. It is from that premise that we say a policy is gender-blind if it does not recognise that there are persons who do not fall within these categories. The policy has unintended discriminatory effects if those people are not covered.” He added an example that most employers’ view disability as only physical. “They will always say we have ramps for wheelchairs in place. They must comprehend that beyond physical disabilities, other forms of disabilities exist and should be recognised in the policies.” He said that job adverts were very clear that persons from previously disadvantaged groups were encouraged to apply, and in some instances, the adverts were specific that Coloured people and Indians were also encouraged to apply. He added that the issues of the Coloured and Indian representation had been a challenge for the past ten years across all entities. There was inadequate representation of them in leadership positions, senior management, and junior management levels. One of the reasons given by the entities was that they did not get applications from the two groups. The Employment Equity plans need to be clear about the barriers an entity encounters and the action plan to address them. “There needs to be an intentional commitment to find out why there is a paucity of representation of certain race groups, as well as implementing measures to address it.”

Dr Nomfundo Tshabalala, Director-General, DFFE, said that the Department had had extensive engagements with the CGE during the initial stages of its investigations. The Department had been requested to come and present before the Commission on the extent to which it had mainstreamed gender issues in its operations. She said that the Department had made significant progress. “All our policies have been updated, and we report feedback to the CGE.” She admitted that there was a concern around the empowerment of women and other designated groups regarding procurement. “That is still a target the Department is pursuing in all our performance contracts and also in the Deputy Directors-General’ (DDGs’) performance contracts. It is a measurable target for the Department to achieve the expected targets that government sets. It may not be in the Annual Performance Plan (APP), but it is in our operational plans. We work very closely with the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (DWYPD) around all gender-related issues.” She confirmed that while the Department was making a concerted effort on representation of other racial groups such as Coloureds and Indians, it did not get enough applications from those groups. The representation of the Coloureds and the Indians in the Department was at 3% and 2% respectively. It held awareness sessions to encourage people from these groups to apply. She added that the DFFE took swift action after the sexual harassment investigations were concluded. Its main priority was to protect the alleged sexual harassment victim.

Introductory remarks by the Minister on the outcomes of the 28th Session of the Congress of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP28) in Dubai
Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Barbara Creecy, said the South African and African group of negotiators felt that the outcome of COP28 was better than had been the situation in the past. “We began before the formal negotiations with the establishment of loss and damage fund and a global adaptation goal. We have struggled for a global adaptation goal for so many years. The final document made references to the question of a just transition, equity and differentiated responsibility and capabilities issues”. She was pleased overall with the outcomes of COP28 because they reflected the complexities faced by developing countries in terms of just transition and building climate resilience. She added that the African Union (AU) met in Addis Ababa to discuss climate issues. There was a general acceptance of the decisions of COP28, and acceptance of the Climate Summit hosted by President William Ruto in Kenya before COP28. “The Climate Summit was an important event because, it really helped to change the narrative. It also allowed for talks on economic opportunities offered by the green transition for the African continent”.

DFFE COP28 report back
Mr Maesela Kekana, DDG: Climate Change and Air Quality Management, DFFE, delivered the presentation for the Department. He assessed South Africa’s actual foreign policy achievements at COP28 against its key aims.

The First global stocktake under the Paris Agreement must consider equity and
historical responsibility
See presentation document page 5

Adoption of the Global Goal on Adaptation Framework
See presentation document page 6

Operationalisation of the Loss and Damage fund
See presentation document page 7

Mitigation and just transition work programmes for the urgent up-scaling of mitigation

See presentation document pages 8 and 9

Address the unfulfilled finance commitments by developed countries, in particular, the USD100bn per year by 2020
See presentation document page 10

Progress towards setting the new collective quantified goal post-2025 beyond the current
floor of USD100
bn per year
See presentation document page 10

Scaling up adaptation finance and ensuring parity between mitigation and adaptation

See presentation document page 10

Key implications of COP28 for South Africa included:
- COP28 contains the first-ever UNFCCC decision language on phasing down fossil fuels, but this is contextualised as a sustainable development issue and transition must happen in a just, orderly and equitable manner with enabling means of implementation support;

- Trade issues (minerals and carbon border taxes) require follow-up and coordination amongst developing countries;

- The progression in the international community’s conceptualisation of just transitions beyond only energy/mitigation and immediate workforce towards a whole-of-society and whole-of-economy approach is key for Africa; and

- The focus of COP29 in Azerbaijan in November 2024 will be finance and the first Biennial Transparency Reports (BTRs) to track implementation progress.

See attached for full presentation

Mr Bryant said that he had been part of the delegation to COP28, and it had achieved a significant number of things. One of the key concerns shared by African and other developing countries was the issue of concern on carbon border adjustment mechanisms. Had there been any subsequent feedback on those issues? He added that some sectors were concerned that COP28 had been and COP 29 would be hosted by states which had an interest in the fossil fuel industry. What was government’s position on hosting COP29? He emphasised that a lot still needed to be done to achieve the climate goals. He asked whether the Climate Change Bill was ready to be finalised.

Ms H Winkler (DA) asked for some context regarding the dispute between developing and developed countries over the USD 100 billion in climate finance. She also wanted an update on the Climate Change Bill and suggested having the Presidential Climate Commission present to the Committee.

Mr Paulsen recalled that countries agreed to phase down the use of coal at COP26 but had not agreed to quit the use of fossil fuels. He noted that one of the purposes of COP28 was to do a stocktake and focus extensively on the future of fossil fuels and the commitments required by each country. What progress had been made in terms of stocktaking? He agreed with Mr Bryant that the economy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) relied heavily on the export of fossil fuels and wondered whether South Africa should propose that host countries should have favourable just energy transition programmes.

Mr Kekana said there needed to be a coordinated approach to dealing with issues relating to the carbon border adjustment mechanism. “The issue was highlighted strongly in the African Climate Summit, and it was reiterated at COP28 that African countries condemn the punitive measures.” He advised that the issue needed to be raised again in a much-coordinated fashion within the UNFCCC negotiations. He said that there were no rules in the UNFCCC dictating which country could host and which could not. He noted that South Africa had hosted the COP17, and its economy was also reliant on the use of fossil fuels. He thought the focus of discussions should be on actual substance, rather than hosting. He said the USD100bn was contested because the developed countries had commissioned their own reports through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and other bodies. “Their reports indicate that they are making progress and claim that they have achieved the delivery of this particular goal. But the formal reports of the UNFCCC standing committee on finance paint a different picture.” He added that the global stocktake was very clear that the world was not on track towards meeting the 1.5 degree warming goal. However, it also reflected that significant progress had been made since the Paris Agreement. “You might have read that in 2023, there were record investments in fossil fuels, particularly from developed countries. Subsequent to the COP28 decision, you might have read that there were decisions to pull back on fossil fuel investments. In a way, you could see the influence of COP28 on them and their investment decisions.”

Follow-up discussion
Mr Bryant emphasised how important it was for South Africa to ensure that they could fund a just transition process over the next two years. The subsequent COPs were going to provide an opportunity to re-evaluate and also provide guidance. The country should place this at the forefront of its climate discussion, recognising that it could not fund this transition on its own.

Ms Weber asked if there was going to be a joint committee to oversee the planning and implementation of the climate budget.

Minister Creecy said that the Just Energy Transition (JET) implementation plan was overseen by a Cabinet committee chaired by herself and with representation of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE), The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), The Department of Trade and Industry and Competition (DTIC) and the National Treasury. It was located in the Presidency because its implementation cut across departments. The Minister of Employment and Labour, Mr Thulas Nxesi, was also a member of the committee.

Briefing on the environmental challenges in Kabeljous Conservation Area, Eastern Cape
Mr Michael Sternberg of the Greater Kabeljous Partnership (GKP) explained that the GKP was seeking protection for an area of coastal land near Jeffrey’s Bay in the Eastern Cape bordered by the R102, the Gamtoos River mouth and the Kabeljous River mouth. The Eastern Cape government owned some portions of this land while others were privately owned. It contained a high degree of biodiversity, including a large network of wetlands, renosterveld, and vulnerable plant and bird species. It was also culturally significant to the Khoisan people and contained numerous archaeological sites. Attempts had been made to provide the land with statutory protection since 1999. This required transferring the state-owned parts of the land from the provincial Department of Human Settlements (DHS) to the Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT). The need to protect the land had become more urgent since parts of the land had been illegally occupied in 2022. GKP called on the Committee to:

- ensure that the DFFE expedites the process to transfer the state land to an appropriate organ of state with a conservation mandate, namely DEDEAT;
- help expedite the formal declaration of the area as a provincial Nature Reserve in terms of the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act; and
- summon the responsible DEDEAT officials to can explain their unacceptable delays to the Committee.

See attached for full presentation

Mr Bryant appreciated the efforts of concerned citizen groups like GKP, who fought to preserve the country’s biodiversity. He said that the key responsibility of the Committee was to ensure that such biodiverse areas were protected. “I am very pleased to see that there have been consultations with local traditional authorities in the area offering their support. I really feel we should be supporting this initiative wholeheartedly, with the three recommendations made in the presentations.”

Ms Weber asked if application documents had been sent to the Minister to recognise the Kabeljous Conservation Area as a nature reserve in the Eastern Cape. She asked whether it was possible to get a court order to stop the illegal occupation until a final decision had been reached. She was sad that one always had to make a choice between the economy and the environment. She agreed with Mr Bryant that was the Committee’s duty to assist towards making this area a nature reserve.

Ms S Mbatha (ANC) asked whether the area had been earmarked before. “We need to know what the land was used for and then we can look at their request. We only know what they want to use the land for. We need full information. Unless we go there and get a full report, I cannot support the motion tabled.” He asked what the plan was for the human settlements on the land.

Dr Wentzel Coetzer, GKP, said a formal biodiversity assessment was undertaken regarding the prescribed Eastern Cape biodiversity stewardship programme. The assessment was submitted to the Eastern Cape Park and Tourism Agency and reviewed by the biodiversity stewardship panel. It was confirmed that the area indeed qualified to be a provincial nature reserve. The land has been earmarked as a de facto conversation area for many years, vested with the provincial authority for conservation. The DHS recognised the area as too sensitive to development from a biodiversity and ecological point of view. The MEC of the DHS had resolved to have the land transferred to an organ of state with a conservation mandate. However, it was up to the provincial government authorities to accept and facilitate the transfer.

Ms N Gantsho (ANC) said the Committee should appreciate the presentation but not commit to any decisions. The DFFE must be allowed to deal with the matter. “We appreciate their presentation, and I am quite aware of some of the challenges that the area faces, because it is my constituency, as I am deployed in the Kouga region”.

Ms Mbatha said that the presenters had hidden some information, because the area had been earmarked for Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses by the DHS. She called on the Committee to allow the departments concerned to finalise the issue. The Committee should also visit the site to check what is happening there. It should not take a decision based on one side of the story.

Mr Bryant appreciated the points made by other Members, but he did not see anything controversial in the recommendations made by the presenters. “Our job as the Portfolio Committee is to ensure that the environment is protected. We received an extensive presentation on all the species and the area under threat. We have no power, but we can only make recommendations to ensure that the area is properly protected and looked after, so that we do not encounter a situation similar to what is taking place in other parts of the country, where unregulated expansion can lead to biodiversity devastation.” He asked for the DFFE to comment on the matter.

Ms Flora Mokgohloa, DDG: Biodiversity and Conservation, DFFE, noted that the Minister had asked for questions to be submitted in a written format. She said this was a provincial matter that needed to be dealt with at that level of government.

Mr Bryant maintained that it was the responsibility of the Committee to ensure that the environment was protected. Even if it did not have direct jurisdiction, it still had an oversight role. He proposed that the Committee vote on whether to accept the three recommendations.

Ms Weber seconded the proposal from Mr Bryant.

Mr N Singh (IFP) said that it was very seldom that matters were put to a vote. He appealed to Members to find a way forward. Since it was a provincial matter, could the Committee refer it to the province to take the requested action and report back?

Ms Mbatha seconded Mr Singh’s suggestion and stressed that she did not see the reason for the Committee to vote on something on which it did not have full information. “Let us allow the provincial departments to deal with this matter.”

Ms Weber said she was unsure if the Members had all listened to the same presentation. She had not heard any mention of earmarking the land for RDP purposes.  

Ms Mbatha replied that the other Members had not listened carefully when the presenters were responding to her question. The answer was that the DHS wanted that land to be used for RDP housing. She added that she did not see a need to rush things. “Yes, we have a role to play, but we need to look at both sides of the story. If the DHS wants to erect RDP houses on the land, there are still Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedures to be followed. We acknowledge that we have received the presentation, and we must refer it to the provincial level. The decision will be made once all the concerned parties have been allowed to come and present to the Committee.”

Mr Bryant argued that the national government could assist with expediting the transfer of the land between the provincial DHS and DEDEAT. The other request was to get a presentation from DEDEAT to comment on the delays. He did not agree that it was merely a provincial issue. “We have a responsibility here, which I think we are shirking by refusing to take a position on it. Hence, we want to put it to a vote to just say we support those last three recommendations if the Committee as a whole is not prepared to take any of this further.”

The Chairperson said that the Committee should never shirk its responsibilities. He also stressed that members must never use the Committee to campaign. “We need to discharge the responsibilities that are bestowed upon us as Members of Parliament. This back-and-forth discussion is not helping.”

Ms Gantsho seconded Mr Singh’s proposal and did not support the call for a vote. She proposed having a joint meeting with the relevant departments to deal with the issues.

The Chairperson concluded that there should not be any vote. “The concerned departments, including the Department of Public Works, should be invited back together with GKP to get clarity on the matter and find a way forward.

Mr Bryant was satisfied with the Chairperson’s recommendation.

Briefing by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) on the South African Navy Detonations in Simon’s Town
Mr Patrick Dowling, Head: Education, WESSA, said that recent detonations by the South African Navy in Simon’s Town had done more harm than good. WESSA argued that if the South African Navy proceeded with detonating munitions close to the Boulders Beach penguin colony, their decision would be short-sighted, irresponsible, and negligent. The decision could be environmentally disastrous and could be proved to be illegal. WESSA advocated postponing all future detonations until the issue was dealt with accordingly.

See attached

Mr Bryant asked if the Committee would get feedback from DFFE and SANParks, because they were very much involved in this process, or should members just ask questions and allow WESSA to respond?

Ms Hapiloe Sello, CEO, SANParks, said that she would prefer to respond to written questions.

Mr Bryant said that the point of the Portfolio Committee was to be able to get answers directly. “SANParks has claimed in the media that they would be monitoring the situation concerning the detonations. Surely, they must have some sort of feedback for us. I suppose if they are not going to respond to us in this meeting, then we would write and send the questions to them”. He thanked WESSA for the work it had done with the help of the local community members. “We must consider the huge tourism potential that Boulders Beach has. It is one of the most visited places in the country. So many people are incredibly shocked that detonations were being allowed to take place so close to the penguin sanctuary. The response from SANParks had been inadequate when the issues were raised.” He asked what the potential damage to the environment was and what other challenges had been brought by the initial session of blasting? Had WESSA made any recommendations to SANParks and Department of Defence on finding alternative locations?

Ms Winkler said that it was unacceptable that there were military detonations taking place at one of the world’s famous hotspot destinations, and that African penguins were becoming endangered. She was concerned that the relevant department officials were not present to account at the meeting. Would these actions be halted? When would the Committee get feedback?

Ms Mbatha asked whether the houses in Simon’s Town were built before or after the defence infrastructure. She asked what the noise level of the detonations was, given that 86 decibels was a normal level a person could tolerate. How was the military considering this issue, given that it was necessary to protect the country? She noted that the Department of Defence estimated the noise levels before undertaking detonations in accordance with Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). If indeed the detonations qualified as noise pollution, what measures were put into place to stay within the required noise levels?

Ms Weber said penguins were among the most fascinating and wonderful animals. “We had a visit to the site last year and one of the things that caught me is that penguin’s mate for life, and therefore they cannot be moved to another location to breed.” She said that the Navy must detonate their experiments somewhere else. The DFFE and the Navy needed to find a compromise which would satisfy both parties, without losing money from tourism or endangering the penguin. She thought the Committee needed to raise their concern about protecting the environment.

Mr Dowling said that the responses from both the Navy and the DFFE were inadequate. He said watching penguins was a spectator sport in South Africa and boosted South African tourism. The military exercises and explosive tests could be carried out anywhere. “Such exercises should be moved further offshore, preferably outside of False Bay.” He said he had only seen visuals with water plumes going up 20 meters, but he did not have decibel readings. He clarified that the concern was not for human and residential areas but for marine biodiversity. “We have to ask ourselves what we mean by ‘our country.’ Is it just the people or the economic activity, or does it include the underlying natural resources that make it possible to have an economy? I believe it includes the latter.” He confirmed that the penguins could not be moved, but their environment could be modified through interventions such as building egg-laying nests. He said that the occupational health and safety specialist appointed by the Navy was mandated to look after the diverse personnel and the local population in case of medical emergencies. He doubted that their mandate stretched to the welfare of other species.

Follow-up discussion
Ms Winkler asked if there had been any observable short-term impacts of the detonations on the penguin colony. Was any research done on the encroachment of military exercises on penguin populations?

Mr Bryant said it was being widely reported that the Navy, DFFE and the Department of Defence, were working together to find a solution. Was that true or not? What were the plans going forward? Were studies undertaken during the explosion exercise to measure the impact on the wildlife? Were the concerned departments invited to participate on the matter? He asked if the Portfolio Committee could be invited to do an oversight visit.

Ms Mbatha clarified that she spoke about occupational hygienists rather than occupational health and safety practitioners. “The occupational hygienist also deals with the animals because whatever they are doing must be guided by the corresponding environmental legislation. The measurements are taken at different levels to check the occupational exposure limit and so forth. It will be much better if Department of Defence come and present how they measure the noise pollution on marine activity daily.”

Ms Winkler said that it was important to establish whether the blasting that took place was done by the South African Navy alone or in partnerships with other countries. Who was funding the testing?

Mr Dowling said that the public was no longer that concerned because their attention had shifted towards new media issues. There was currently no observable impact on the penguins. However, he was not sure about the long-term impacts. He drew attention to a study conducted in Gqeberha that had found that shipping noise was enough to contribute to huge die-backs in animals such as African penguins. “That is probably a result of the compounding of several negative impacts from overfishing, pollution, and noise. It would be great to organise a meeting with the DFFE and Department of Defence. The experience of civil society is that the military is very reluctant to respond to anything asked of them.” He added that it would also be good to get figures on noise pollution to compare them to international best practices.

Ms Sello said that she had noted the questions and responses. She confirmed that these were inter-ministerial issues, so she would prefer if they were directed via writing.

The Chairperson asked if WESSA interacted with SANParks.

Mr Dowling said that it engaged with SANParks on various local matters related to alien vegetation clearing, access to Table Mountain National Park, and protection of the marine and coastal marine protected areas, including conversations about abalone poaching.

Ms Winkler was worried that the Committee was allowing the DFFE to not respond to contentious and uncomfortable issues directly by allowing them to submit written responses. “This is a matter of huge public interest, and we have had many instances of issues that cut across departments, but we have never had a problem having the departments account.” She struggled to understand why the Committee was having a problem getting the answers it required today, given that the Department had been notified in advance of the agenda.

Mr Bryant agreed. He asked whether the Department of Defence was invited to present.

Mr Dowling also agreed that the Committee should have more oversight and that this matter should be openly discussed. He was not sure if the Department of Defence was invited or not.

Ms Sello stressed that she does not want to leave the Committee with the impression that SANParks was reluctant to account. She said that some of the issues were out of its remit. She said that SANParks was not requested to make a presentation today, but they would be ready to present when invited. She said that when they were consulted about the matter by the DFFE, their scientist worked around the clock to find an alternative site. The site was identified, and the matter was communicated DFFE. The DFFE then dealt with the Department of Defence.

The Chairperson agreed that SANParks was not responsible for responding to this matter. “Therefore, let us agree that there must be constant engagement with the SANParks. The CEO is committed to engaging with WESSA on this matter. We are not dismissive, because you must be able to find one another. Should there be any difficulties, you can come to the Portfolio Committee for intervention.” He added that the Committee also noted some of the issues it would need to raise with SANParks.

Mr Bryant said that there was clear awareness of what the challenges were, according to the response by Ms Sello. It was not the Committee’s fault that there were no government officials to account. The presentations were circulated prior to the meeting.” He voiced his dissatisfaction with the DFFE that the Committee was not able to get answers to some of the most important questions, including the new proposed area for detonation.

The Chairperson said there was a common practice of accepting proposals and answering questions in written format. However, it should not be a habit. “What has been presented here interlinks various departments. If it means we must facilitate meetings with various departments and committees of parliament, we will do that.” He noted that there were a number of issues raised that could not be responded to because of insufficient time. He asked if the Committee could agree that it would deal with them after the interactions between Mr Dowling and Ms Sello on a constant basis.

The Committee agreed.

The meeting was adjourned.


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