Environmental Law 1 - Property Owner Questions
- I want to build another house, do I need environmental authorization from the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs?
- Have I planted my timber correctly?
- Is my neighbour’s activity lawful?
- Can I plough up this grassland?
- May I build a dam?
These are the type of questions that all property owners have asked themselves at some stage in their lives.
Whilst almost everyone knows that South Africa has in place laws and regulations designed to protect the environment, very few actually know the content of this legislation. This article series aims at creating a greater public awareness of the laws and regulations governing development, which it is hoped will prevent unlawful activities and inappropriate development that cause unacceptable impacts on the environment and a big headache for the landowner afterwards! A basic knowledge of environmental law will in the long run protect you against possible prosecution and financial loss.
As a starting point, the Bill of Rights offers an overview of what South Africans are entitled to in respect of the environment: “Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation, promote conservation, and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development”
Sustainable development can be defined as development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In the context of the natural environment, this means the preservation of clean air, fresh water, rainforests, the ozone layer and biological diversity. All these factors are critically important in maintaining the earth’s natural balance – allowing for healthy living.
Below is a list of some of the legislation aimed at protecting the natural environment:
- Environment Conservation Act, 1989 (Act 73 of 1989)
- Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, 1983 (Act 43 of 1983)
- National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998)
- National Forests Act, 1998 (Act 84 of 1998)
- National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act 107 of 1998)
These laws are designed to regulate what happens on our properties. The services provided by the natural environment (such as water purification by wetlands) are considered state assets. It is for this reason that all development which could have a negative impact on the environment is subject to obtaining environmental authorization, regardless of whether the land is state or privately owned property. This has been put in place to safeguard the interests of the nation for future generations, rather than the immediate needs of the current land owner. Next issue we will consider two of the most important Acts in South Africa – The Environmental Conservation Act & The National Environmental Management Act.
Author: Wolfgang Kanz
- Afzelia Environmental Consultants cc
- Cell: 082 675 6075