Deputy Minister Sotyu’s speech during budget plenary on revised DEFF annual performance plan 2020/21

Address by the Deputy Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Honourable Ms Makhotso Sotyu (MP), during the budget plenary on the revised Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries’ annual performance plan 2020/21

23 July 2020, Parliament of the Republic of South Africa, virtual delivery

 

Chairperson of the House,
Honourable Minister, Ms B. Creecy,
Chairperson of the Portfolio, Mr. F Xasa,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
The top management of DEFF,
All the CEOs of the DEFF entities,
Ladies and gentlemen,

House chairperson,

Covid-19 has presented a number of challenges to all South Africans, and to the entire world. Although the pandemic has placed additional pressure on our economy and forced us to reprioritise to meet the needs of our people, it has held some hidden success for the environment.

Factories closed and there were less cars on the roads for a limited period during alert level five of the national lockdown.

The reduction in vehicle emission, smoke and pollutants from industries, saw an improvement in our ambient air quality and thus a reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions, which is important in meeting our international obligations on climate change.

Honourable members, 

We are grateful for these hidden positives, because South Africa is naturally, a country of climatic extremes.

Large parts of our country continue to suffer the effects of the most devastating drought in years.  Other parts have experienced, and are still experiencing destructive floods. 

Severe weather conditions are increasing, resulting not only in the destruction of infrastructure, but more worryingly in the reduction of food security.  

Without food and water, we are unable to sustain growing populations. 

Climate change plays only a part in the problems we are experiencing. 

A key area is the health of our soil. It is well-known that community-managed land could generate billions of Rands worth of ecosystem benefits in South Africa through, for example, reduced pollution, clean water and erosion control.

It adds that investment in avoiding land degradation and restoring degraded land makes sound economic sense and the benefits generally far exceed the costs.

As a country, we have managed to secure more than 3,6 million USD through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) fund for the implementation of a project to address desertification, land degradation and the effects of drought in grazing lands in Limpopo and the Northern Cape.

Globally, negotiations are underway to discuss possible options for addressing drought under the United National Convention to Combat Desertification.  

We hope that once an intergovernmental working group on effective policy and implementation for addressing drought concludes its work, we will have a solution, or guidance, on how to tackle drought issues at all levels. 

Honourable members,

Among the key areas that can contribute significantly to green economic growth, is waste. 

The Department has over the years supported municipalities to manage their waste.  Studies on the challenges facing municipalities in this area have shown that there are many issues to be addressed.

For instance, issues of capacity limitations, lack of knowledge of the Waste Act and its imperatives, resource allocation, inefficiencies specifically in relation to tariff setting and costing of waste services, waste services backlogs, inadequate planning and the general low priority allocated to waste management, need to be urgently addressed.

To address this, the department has placed 44 local government support officials in all the district municipalities in South Africa to ensure effective waste management services for all citizens.

Municipalities are also being assisted with the development of integrated waste management plans.

Good Green Deeds campaigns encourage households and communities to reduce, reuse, recycle and repurpose their waste.

Furthermore, our department, in collaboration with the Department of Cooperative Government and the National Treasury, has promulgated a landmark policy on the use of Municipal Infrastructure Grant for funding specialised waste vehicles.

Municipalities that have been struggling with waste collection due to fleet aging, low revenue and other reasons, will thus be able to procure waste collection and other specialised vehicles through this Municipal Infrastructure Grant.

The above efforts will ensure that the marginalised communities have access to waste management services that they would have otherwise not afforded.

This financial year will see the training of a further 100 municipal officials and councillors on various aspects of waste management. 

We are also in the process of compiling key waste infrastructure projects for the Presidential SIDS programme.

In these challenging times of COVID-19, the Department is collaborating with a number of partners to provide a coordinated waste management response to the pandemic.

We are participating in the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Covid-19 response platform that seeks to provide support to communities so as to cope with the impacts of the pandemic.

Through this platform, support to those that work in the waste management space, including waste pickers, can be coordinated.  This includes the donation of food, PPE and provision of financial stipends.

We are also working with municipalities and provinces to compile a list of waste pickers who will benefit from this support.

Additional work is being done with municipalities by the Department and UNEP to enable them to deal with the new waste stream that has emerged as a result of Covid-19. 

This is the management of face masks, disposable hazmat suits, plastic gloves and related materials being used and discarded by doctors, nurses, other medical professionals and members of the public.

We need to ensure that this waste does not end up clogging our rivers and oceans, or contribute to increased litter as we work to keep our environment safe and healthy.

Chairperson,

Because of South Africa’s rich and unique biodiversity, protection of our environment is of the utmost importance. 

This is an area that holds enormous wealth in terms of jobs and economic development.

It is the source for the development of the biodiversity economy.

This is an area of development that will not only increase equality in the wildlife sector.

It will also increase the share of traditional knowledge holders in the use, both domestically and internationally, of plant-based products used by communities for generations.

Within the region, the co-existence of humans and nature this year is being celebrated in the first trans-frontier conservation area established 20 years ago.  

For instance, the establishment of the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Park was an epoch-making milestone for conservation and eco-tourism in the region. 

The historical bilateral agreement signed 20 years ago between South Africa and Botswana established the only trans-frontier park that is open in the true sense of the word for tourism movement.

Similar to the wildlife found in the desert landscape, tourists can move freely across the international border within the boundaries of the park as there are no physical barriers.

The trans-frontier conservation areas (TFCAs) are one of the greatest conservation success stories within SADC. 

These areas guarantee the long-term conservation of valuable wildlife resources in the region.

Chairperson

Rapid urbanisation and the movement of people from rural to urban areas is placing greater pressure on existing infrastructure. 

One of the areas presently meeting some of our needs is the Expanded Public Works Programme’s Working on Fire initiatives.  

These include Working for Land so ensure sustainable land management, Working for Water which aims to secure strategic water resources through the removal of alien and invasive species and Working for Wetlands directed at ensuring nature’s natural water filters are fully restored.

Another key area is the protection of our forests; areas vital for sustainable development.

These renewable natural resources are crucial for tackling issues such as poverty, food security, climate change, biodiversity, sustainable production and consumption, and social inclusion.

Particularly, the needs of our most vulnerable people will be met, in the process ensuring their well-being.

Through Plantation Forestry and the Forestry Stewardship Council we will be able to enhance on the existing natural forests and woodlands in our country.  

Of the 1. 2million hectares of plantations, some are leased by Government to private companies, and 3.7% of these are owned by small growers.

Forests contribution is around 10% of the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP).

Three years ago, many people lost their homes, businesses were destroyed, more than 10 000 people were displaced, and thousands of hectares of indigenous forest was destroyed in a wildfire that ripped through Knysna and surrounding areas.

This wildfire could have been worse had it not been for the ongoing clearing of invasive species by the Working for Water programme in the area for 22 years prior to the disaster.

We are well aware of concerns around management of state forestry in the Southern Cape. 

Although we only formally assumed responsibility for these areas on 1 April 2020, public concern has led to the Department employing 89 workers to assist with fire prevention measures on the state-owned plantations.

The Working on Fire teams have prepared strategic fire breaks in the area.  Similar operations are underway in other forestry areas across the country.  

Our water and alien species removal teams are also working to remove plants that could contribute either to further forest destruction, or runaway fires.

In the same vein, the Green Scorpions and the department’s Biosecurity Unit are assessing illegal invasive plant species on land, particularly the Knysna area where there has been substantial regrowth of alien species.

These teams are also advising landowners about their legal responsibilities to clear their land.  Should landowners fail to implement a prioritised plan to clear the plants, directives compelling them to do so may then be issued.

Chairperson,

Earlier this year 120 young people graduated through our Forestry Support Programme to become Working on Fire firefighters and Forestry Project graduates.

Without interventions like the Forestry Support programme, our department and government face a very real threat of unwanted wildland fires destroying our property and spreading destruction to neighbouring land, including communities who live in these areas.

Moreover, there has been extensive damage to infrastructure as a result of vandalism in these forests.

It is really sad and regrettable that we now need to also counter these destructive tendencies among some in our communities by physically occupying and looking over our infrastructure in our forests.

These are some of the challenges we face as these forests are transferred back to DEFF from those who operated them over the recent past.

We all know the stark reality of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, in our society today.

I appeal to our youth to apply for, and participate in skills-based training programmes being offered by Government, so that they can be either be employed, or create their own small businesses, as we grow our economy.

I also want to confirm the critical importance of women as front-fighters against our changing climate. 

Women’s role is also more important today than ever, as they are the backbone of development, particularly in our rural areas and informal economy. 

These gallant partners in Africa’s development contribute significantly to the growth of our national economy and require support so they can continue to contribute to a new and improved South African economy as we emerge from the devastation of Covid-19.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Honourable Minister for her leadership in the environment, forestry and fisheries sectors since taking office just over a year ago.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Department’s former Director-General, Ms Nosipho Ngcaba, who retired almost two months ago, and the Acting Director-General, Mr Ishaam Abader, and the entire team at the Department for your support in the past year. 

I thank you all.