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Deputy Minister Maggie Sotyu’s speech on the occasion of the Department of Environmental Affairs 2019/20 Budget Vote

11 July 2019

Minister of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, Ms. Barbara Creecy,
All Ministers and Deputy Ministers present,
Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, Mr. Fikile Xasa,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
All MECs present,
Director-General, Ms Nosipho Ngcaba & Your Team
All the Board Chairs & Chief Executives of DEFF Public Entities & Our key stakeholders.
Ladies and Gentlemen,

One of the key stakeholders who sent letters of congratulations to our new Ministry, was Green Peace Africa’s Executive Director, Mr Njeri Kabeberi.  This congratulatory letter deserves special mention not only because Green Peace Africa is one of our key stakeholders and partners in discharging our Constitutional mandate, that of  protecting people’s right to a clean environment, as guaranteed by Section 24 of our Constitution. 

But, also because Green Peace Africa went on to specifically and precisely laying out all the issues that need to be prioritised by our newly amalgamated Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries, specifically mentioning concerns of climate change, air pollution, global warming, ocean vulnerability, and static/under-developed policies and legislations.

This is a kind social activism that is much needed by our Government, as a healthy environment requires a concerted action from all sectors of our society. 

Though, issues of climate change and pollution, and related big words, such as “biodiversity” and “ecosystem”, could be quickly seen as just other academic and farfetched phenomenon from the immediate realities of our communities. 

Most people have other things to worry about, partly because the grave consequences of climate change and pollution health hazards tend to be invisible, yet incremental until suddenly they become catastrophic through natural and unnatural disasters such as typhoons, forest fires, deadly diseases, and severe drought. 

And, part of the problem is that these issues of “climate change” and “pollution” are either perceived as concerns of other groups of people and nothing to do with immediate societal challenges such as poverty, unemployment and economic growth, or it is alleged to be a problem of the future. Neither could be furthest from the truth. 

The fact of the matter is that “biodiversity” simply means we need to quickly acknowledge that our existence and survival as the human species solely depend on the normal functioning of our weather system to get good rains for water and sustainability of both the land and sea animal species, and plant kingdom. 

And, indeed this survival also depend on good governance and management of our land to ensure sustainable forests for habitable land, fertile soil for human and food security, and animals’ survival.

This co-existence between humans, animals and nature, is indeed a social cohesion that was already envisioned by our National Government with other fellow Southern Africa countries, way back in 1999 through the establishment of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). 

These TFCA’s were founded with the aim of collaboratively managing shared natural and cultural resources across international boundaries for improved biodiversity conservation, socio-economic development, regional cooperation and integration for shared natural and cultural resources. Consequently, the creation of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on 12th May 2000 opened the first chapter on the TFCAs in Southern Africa. Currently, South Africa is playing a leading role in the collaborative management of six Transfrontier Conservation Areas with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Eswatini. 

The TFCAs socio-economic growth spin-offs through tourism is undisputable. Many renowned tourism destinations such as Kruger National Park, are already situated within the SADC TFCAs, which continue to generate economic growth and employment in the surrounding rural communities. And, for the Financial Year 2019/20, the Department will continue with our SADC partners to consolidate the work being undertaken in the TFCAs for the benefit of transboundary biodiversity conservation, to address challenges of rhino poaching and illegal animal competition hunting, to name a few. 

We will also explore other transboundary collaboration in the areas of World Heritage Sites and the programme on Biosphere Reserves.

The establishment of the TFCAs is human-made and very progressive. At the same time, their de-establishment/destruction will also be inevitably due to human activity or behaviour and will be catastrophic.

Therefore, the good management and clean governance of the natural habitat is critically fundamental. And, that is why last month on 17th June 2019, South Africa joined the community of nations, in celebrating the 25 years of advancement of Sustainable Land Management under the auspices of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

We must know this fact: there will be no TFCAs if animals lose their natural habitat through the irresponsible and illegal cutting of trees. It is a well-known proven scientific research that, the forests are very important for the sustenance of wild life and they play an important role in food chain. Forests also play an important role in the water cycle. 

They check the flow of running water and cause to percolate through the soil and increasing underground water level. Owing to the numerous benefits and the products of the forests it can be easily stated that forests are one of the invaluable gifts of nature to the human kind. But the stark reality is that 91% of South Africa is considered dry land, which makes the country already vulnerable to the illegal cutting of trees, desertification, land degradation, and drought. All these conditions lead to loss of water and food security. 

It is no wonder that we see more urbanisation at a rapid rate, where rural population starts to move towards the cities due to barren land and lack of economic opportunities. Indeed, it is also no wonder that Eskom is insisting on building more power coal-driven plants, in a country where nearly 90% of the electricity comes from coal along with major coal exports.

That is why our Department will have to be informed by an approach of “balancing the act”, when responding and intervening on all these challenges. There is no other approach than balancing the act, if we are to meet and achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of a Land Degradation Neutral World, where there is “no net loss” by 2030.

In this instance, our Department is currently implementing and improving on four of its Programmes to meaningfully contribute to the conservation of South Africa’s biodiversity and the socio-economic development of the rest of SADC member-states through programmes such as the Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs).

Under the auspices of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), the Department continues to invest on core areas of focus such as: sustainable land management, protection of forests, securing strategic water resources, and the restoring degraded lands. 

The Department will also be ensuring that the Broad Based Economic Empowerment, Small medium and Micro-sized Enterprises (BBEE SMMEs) are efficiently supported for maximum economic growth and job creation, especially for our Youth and Women in Business.

While we are still in the process of the amalgamation of the department, we have observed that Plantation Forestry is another programme that seeks to enhance on the existing natural forests and woodlands that South Africa has. South Africa presently has about 1.2million hectares of plantations. Some of these plantations are leased by Government to private companies, and 3.7% of these hectares are owned by small growers. Forests contribution is around 10% of the agricultural GDP.

However, the balancing act approach is critical for this programme, as plantation forestry comes at a cost in terms of transformed land, water and soil impacts, fire risks and loss of biological diversity.

The Forestry Stewardship Council and the implementation of its guidelines will thus go a long way to bring sustainability to the Plantation Forestry sector.

The Working on Fire Programme is another initiative to save our forestry. Who can forget the 2017 devastating fires that destroyed the trees and greens of the Garden Route and Port Elizabeth, where 6 lives were tragically lost in the process? 

Through an overarching national drought plan, awareness, advocacy and educational programmes will also be enhanced by the Department to ensure that more people, including youth and learners, know well about the seriousness and consequences of biodiversity loss and the reduction of ecosystem, appreciate, and converse nature more. 

Agroforestry Strategy is an additional initiative that seeks to integrate forestry and agriculture on the same piece of land holding a number of social, economic and environmental benefits.

Knowledge on facts about our environment will definitely assist our ability to a collective, compliant and indeed caring resilience on the inevitable threats brought about climate change and air pollution. These are threats that have domino effect, multiplying too many other threats.

We will thus ensure that our Department will always act professionally and never with impunity, in responding to complaints, concerns and compliments regarding our immediate mandate. Our motto should be Environmental Rights is Human Rights, as appropriately 21st March is celebrated as International Day of Forests!

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Honourable Minister for her already shown leadership in this short space of time that we have assumed our new respective responsibilities in this rather difficult and technical portfolio. 

My gratitude is also extended to the Director-General Ms Nosipho Ngcaba and the entire team at the Department for welcoming us, and the support and commitment shown already to the Executive. And, finally acknowledging our MECs, Chairpersons, Portfolio and Select Committee members, and looking forward to working with you all.

I thank you all


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