Amnesty is offered to those who own up to sidestepping the regulations
April 14, 2005

By Tony Carnie

Thousands of farmers, property developers, small businesses and major industries face fines of up to R5-million or 10 years in jail if they don't apply for environmental amnesty before July 6.

The amnesty applies to a wide-range of large and small developments that were not subjected to the mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) procedures which took effect in 1997.

These regulations were intended to restrict developments which could have "substantial impacts" on the environment.

In terms of the National Environmental Management Act, all developers have until July 6 to come clean and have their projects legally approved - or face a R5-million fine if they don't apply for amnesty.

But there are no guarantees either for those who do come clean. The developers who apply for amnesty face the risk of having to break down their developments and pay rehabilitation costs. All applicants will also face fines of up to R1-million each, depending on the severity of the environmental impact.

It is believed that there could be thousands of projects across the country which were not subjected to EIA regulations, either through ignorance or a deliberate decision to avoid time loss, expense, or the risk of refusal.

For farmers, examples of such illegal developments could include diverting rivers and streams, the building of farm dams or converting pasture land into crop land.

For property developers it could include holiday homes built too close to the sea or wetland areas, the upgrading of holiday resorts or building new roads in "sensitive areas".

The amnesty also applies to small and large industries which have built, upgraded or changed chemical production processes.

Rich businessmen who have built private aircraft landing strips and helipads, as well as motorcycling clubs which have built racing tracks, could also be affected.

The six-month amnesty was gazetted over the Christmas holidays, to take effect from January 7 this year, but it has not been publicised widely, and explanatory booklets and application forms were printed only last month.

Sources in the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism said this week that no amnesty applications had been received so far, although several were believed to be in the pipeline.

Officials said that because of the lack of monitoring capacity, it was difficult to estimate how many developments could be considered illegal.

Arend Hoogervorst, a Durban-based environmental consultant and editor of the Eagle Environmental Bulletin, said it was likely that several housing projects, including low-cost RDP housing schemes, could be affected.

"There was a lot of private and public development between 1997 and 2000 which was not subjected to EIA procedures because of ignorance, legal uncertainties or the lack of capacity within provincial governments - and of course there were some naughty boys."

These developers now faced the difficult choice of "putting their heads over the wall" to pay fines of up to R1-million, or to lie low and face the risk of a R5-million fine if they were caught later.

Hoogervorst also noted that company directors who failed to come clean faced the added risk of being sued for reckless use of shareholder funds if it emerged that they failed to comply with legal requirements.

For further details of the amnesty and a detailed guideline booklet, visit the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism website ( or contact Amanda Britz at tel 012-310-3485, fax 012-310-3688 or e-mail

The government has also established a 24-hour whistleblower hotline for people to report suspected illegal developments. The phone number is 0800-701-701.

Green Scorpions set to strike
14/04/2005 16:00  - (SA)  

Cape Town - Polluters, poachers, illegal developers and all other environmental criminals beware: the Green Scorpions are out to sting you!

Members of the unit - more formally known as environmental management inspectors (EMIs) - were present in the gallery of the national council of provinces on Thursday to hear Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk announce their official establishment.

Opening debate on his department's budget vote, he told the house the inspectors would be endowed with a range of enforcement powers - from routine inspections to the right to search and seize, as well as to set up roadblocks and arrest suspects.

"Cutting edge laws and standards mean little without the muscle to enforce them... the Green Scorpions are about to be unleashed on polluters, poachers, illegal developers and all other environmental criminals," he warned.

The inspectors would also be given the power to issue formal notices to individuals or corporations breaking the country's environmental laws, or not complying with the terms of their licences.

"Failure to comply will bring severe criminal consequences," Van Schalkwyk said.

The EMIs had been appointed under the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), which would come into force "within weeks".

"From our department, SA National Parks, all provincial environment departments, provincial parks boards and municipalities, the Green Scorpions will be everywhere."

Van Schalkwyk said that for the first time environmental enforcers would be part of a national network including park rangers, conservation and air quality officers, marine and coastal enforcement officials, pollution and waste enforcement officers, and officials monitoring urban development.

Legal background

Earlier on Thursday, EMI head Peter Lukey told journalists at a parliamentary media briefing that the inspectors - all of whom have a legal background - would focus on enforcing NEMA legislation, as well as laws pertaining to pollution, air quality, protected areas and biodiversity.

"The EMIs are not a police force, but professional environmental management inspectors," he said.

Their ranks would include between 20 and 30 members in the national department, a further 15 members in each of the nine provinces, and about 300 SA National Park rangers.

If necessary, the inspectors would call in the police for help in dangerous situations.

Lukey conceded the popular term Green Scorpions might be a misnomer when it came to his inspectors, who were all decked out in black anoraks - with the letters EMI emblazoned across the back - and black peaked caps.

"We look like a cross between the Men In Black and the FBI," he joked.

Speaking at the briefing, Van Schalkwyk said the legal capacity of his department was being strengthened to deal with environmental crime.

S.Africa to press ahead on nuclear plant - minister

Fri April 15, 2005 3:35 PM GMT+02:00

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa is to press ahead with the development of a controversial highly advanced nuclear reactor that will put nuclear power at the heart of its energy sources, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin said on Friday.

South Africa is scrambling for new energy sources to meet rising demand for power, forecast to outstrip supply within three years, and sees nuclear energy as crucial to meet future needs.

"Given the urgency with which we now have to address climate change and the hopes for future hydrogen energy sources the PBMR (pebble bed modular reactor) now assumes a key place in our long term planning," Erwin told parliament.

But the government's plans to build a multi-billion rand pebble bed modular reactor near Cape Town to add to its existing nuclear facility has faced opposition from environmentalists.

The pebble bed reactor is an advanced design that claims to dramatically improve safety and efficiency, but which environmentalists say is unsafe and creates radioactive waste.

A South African court suspended the project in February following a challenge by Earthlife Africa, and demanded the government give environmentalists more time to comment on its impact.

Erwin said the reactor was factored into South Africa's future energy planning and the government was negotiating a major purchase agreement between the company running the PBMR and state-owned electricity utility Eskom.

"This is probably a world first and forms the foundation for further development and industrialisation of this technology. It will place South Africa at the forefront of energy technology," he said.

South Africa hopes to produce a commercial pebble bed reactor within 10 years, exporting the technology internationally.

Nuclear energy from its Koeberg plant currently accounts for about 6 percent of South Africa's energy supply, with 88 percent sourced from coal.