Ezemvelo head faces jail over Balamahlanga wetlands destruction

2014-06-30 00:00

PUBLIC officials, engineers and consultants involved in the destruction of the Balamhlanga wetlands in the Pongola catchment area could be jailed for up to 10 years, or be fined up to R10 million, if they are found guilty of violating environment legislation.

According to a document seen by sister paper Beeld, the CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Dr Bandile Mkhize, is included in this list of people, and has been warned he could go to prison if it is found the wetland was destroyed with his knowledge and approval.

Rapport newspaper reported yesterday that the Bal­amhlanga wetlands is a protected area in terms of Ezemvelo’s own provincial legislation.

Ishaam Abader, deputy director-general of the Department of Environmental Affairs legal and law enforcement unit, said in the document it came to his attention that Ezemvelo had appointed construction workers and engineers — by order of the Department of Agriculture — to drain the wetlands and bulldoze the area to eradicate the so-called indigenous reeds in a R25 million project.

Abader wrote that the Green Scorpions (the law enforcers of the Department of Environmental Affairs) and the Department of Water had visited the wetlands on June 12; and had the next day ordered the entire project to stop immediately.

The investigators found:

• a large canal had already been dug in the wetlands, fed by smaller canals running into it in the shape of a big fish skeleton;

• the excavations, which started in the first week of February, had already destroyed most of the wetlands, the indigenous flora and aquatic fauna;

• apart from the excavations in the wetlands, a large part of the area had been converted into a construction site with roads and camp; and

• the parties involved could not show a water licence or environmental approval for the project to the Green Scorpions.

Abader added the so-called “alien reeds” in the wetlands, which feeds the Mholo pan, are actually indigenous to the area.

“It is clear that the aim with the excavating of the wetlands was not to remove the reeds, but to drain the wetlands.”

Several environmental organisations last week said they are planning to lay criminal charges with the police against the parties involved.

Abader said he was seriously concerned that this activity was undertaken by a government department that is supposed to conserve the environment.

Mkhize had not responded to requests for information by the time of going to press.

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