By Allen Tshautshau
Given the topic at hand, I know that most of you have already started hallucinating about party politics. Well, this article is neither about political affiliation nor the political leadership of various institutions in South Africa, but is aimed at attempting to orientate the public about the relevancy of any political system to environmental protection, and sustainability issues. In any developing country like ours, it is of outmost importance to support initiatives that promotes the protection of the environment due various reasons. Firstly, the environment is the source of the natural resources essential for human survival, and other precious commodities of high economic value. Secondly, it’s our home, and any change to it triggers complex socioeconomical circumstances, and some of these challenges may be short termed and resolvable, but others may be irreversible in the long run.
Fortunately, in our beloved democratic dispensation, cooperative governance, decentralisation of natural resources, and public participation is encouraged in environmental management issues. This provision is made by the National Environmental Management Act of 1998 and Municipal Systems Act of 2000. These two legal frameworks advocates for the incorporation of environmental issues into the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) of municipalities. Although some may argue that the current environmental justice system is being somehow misused by those with authoritarian economic aspirations at the expense of environmental integrity (due to capitalist greediness, particularly by those in government), but at least every South African is afforded a platform to voice out either in favour of or against any economic and social development that may impact on the environment.
Although there is still a lot be desired in our environmental legislative frameworks, we both have a critical role to play as active citizens, which is that of making the current environmental justice system to prevail, and sustaining it through voting. In so doing you give the environmental lobbyists, NGO’s and independent conservationists an improved edge to stand against environmental degrading issues in both the public and private sector. I know, sceptics will judge this matter from an opposite point view, and possibly single out the fracking case in the Karoo, where there the explorers have been given the political support to go ahead, and degrade the environment albeit concerns by various environmental groups and activists . However, one wishes to highlight that we are far ahead of our counterparts in Africa when it comes to environmental justice, and are also considered as global leaders on climate change, and various environmental dialogues. The recent outcomes of the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance and the Centre for Environmental Rights versus ArcelorMittal South Africa case is a good example, where the court has ruled out that the company provide the two NGO’s with a copy of their environmental master plan highlighting the extent at which it is polluting the environment, this has been dubbed by various activist as a success, and an indication of a functional environmental justice.
Well, enough of the tense stuff and once again take the focus back to how Democracy, Voting and Environmental Justice are connected. Firstly, if the political system is autocratic it’s judiciary system may collapse completely, and possibly lead to helpless environmental law enforcing agencies. Secondly, the economy may take a downturn through sanctions (just look at our neighbouring countries for reference’s sake); this usually leads to other societal problems such as poverty, high unemployement rate, diseases and corruption. As a result, people start to look towards their environment as a source of food, medicine, and income creation. This may eventually lead to environmental degradation and over-exploitation of the natural resources. Therefore, it is very much important to sustain a democratic system (through voting of course), and a democratic system usually begets a rational environmental justice. - Allen Tshautshau, Environmental Control Officer and South African National Antarctic Programme’s Deputy Team Leader at Marion Island
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