Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea


SA still facing ‘the crude legacy of pre-1994 environmental racism’

Creecy welcomed Orellana’s visit and urged the UN to support SA’s journey from environmental racism to sustainable development.

South Africa still faces “the crude legacy of pre-1994 environmental racism” 29 years after the end of apartheid, says UN special rapporteur Dr Marcos Orellana.

He was in SA on an official visit to examine the human rights situation related to the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste in the country.

Orellana said the report would be presented to the human rights council in September 2024.

Chemicals and wastes

Briefing the media on his findings yesterday, Orellana congratulated SA for “having ratified the key multilateral environmental agreements on chemicals and wastes. Since 1994, South Africa has adopted numerous and important norms governing chemicals and wastes. I can refer to the National Environmental Management Act No 107 of 1998, the Air Quality Act 39 of 2004 and the Waste Act No 59 of 2008,” he said.

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“Also, there are important measures in progress such as the climate Bill and the banning of certain hazardous pesticides such as chlorpyrifos.

“At the same time, there are laws dating from pre-1994 that are resulting in harm and human rights infringements. One example is the Hazardous Substance Act No 15 of 1973.”

He noted the deeper underlying issues with the country affecting disadvantaged communities, “the abhorrent practice entailed the intentional placing of landfills and polluting industries along racial lines and in low-income and migrant communities”.

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“The challenges in overcoming the legacy of environmental racism are enormous and are compounded by structural inequality, widespread poverty, unemployment, corruption, a severe energy crisis and new environmental threats such as the climate emergency,” he added.

“While the legacy and current pollution challenges are vast, South Africa has committed to the respect of fundamental rights in its constitution and international treaties. This is cause for hope and optimism.”

Environmental racism to sustainable development

Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy welcomed Orellana’s visit and urged the UN to support SA’s journey from environmental racism to sustainable development and realisation of the human rights contained in Section 24 of the constitution.

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She said there had been arrangements for him to hold “widespread discussions on the problem of chemicals and hazardous waste with government, business, civil society and organised labour”.

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