Towards a Constitution that Protects the Enviroment
Anthony De Villiers | 03 April 2019
South Africa needs increased awareness of the fact that environmental justice is social justice and the two cannot be mutually exclusive. The human population is part and parcel of the environment and part of its interconnected symbiotic relationships. Misconceptions that environmental concerns are merely sentimental and not relevant to socio-economic concerns, are not conducive to 21st century thinking.
South African government policy is not environmentally friendly. This is not conducive to the working class struggle and the fight against the tyrannies of capitalism.
Our revolutionaries must unite against environmental injustices and environmental struggles must be firmly incorporated into the struggle of the working class. Our revolution must fight for a constitution that enforces the genuine combating of our environmental injustices, to give our working class struggle the effect it urgently needs.
Our revolution tends very much to be divided but in July 2018 South Africa experienced something magnificent. A Gauteng summit organised by South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) saw the coming together of 147 trade unions and civil society movements. This provided a great deal of hope because it saw the start of a new, ground-breaking era. It saw the consolidation of working class struggles into one united mass movement. What was ground-breaking, is the hope this gives, as it makes the fight for freedom a great deal stronger and victory inevitable.
Key issues identified to be addressed were corruption, the economy, inequality, poverty and employment. What was also encouraging was the fact that climate change, energy sources and the transition to a more environmentally friendly society was addressed. For this new era to carry the hope our people need, it needs to be ensured that environmental movements are part of such summits and processes, and that movements link their struggles to environmental movements. Furthermore, environmental movements need to be active participants in working class struggles and link their struggles to them. This holds great potential to significantly strengthen consolidated mass united revolution.
The environment needs to produce healthy ecosystem balances insuring healthy functional symbiotic relationships within the environment, for the healthy production of so-called ‘ecosystem services’. These services refer to the production by the environment of food, water, wood, medicines and material for manufacturing. Ecosystems that are not properly balanced will result in the failure to produce such resources effectively. The South African and global poor will bear the brunt of the ineffective production of such resources – which would be detrimental to working class struggles globally. Ecosystem services are also needed for healthy agricultural crop production, as the right proportions of predation control the proportions of agricultural pests. Healthy soil biodiversity is needed for quality soil which produces agricultural crops. South African land reform has been identified as a key contributor to socio-economic upliftment. Agriculture for the poor is identified as a significant component of the purpose of land reform. However, South African agriculture would seem to be facing a dismal future without substantial environmental care.
In September this year the UN Secretary General will host a climate change summit. Our president has an obligation to revolutionise this summit in a quest to fight for the South African poor. He needs to stridently campaign for improved global environmental standards and revolutionary movements need to put pressure on him to do so.
At home and abroad, health hazardous emissions cause climate change which causes the deterioration of habitats and environmental destruction and jeopardises ecosystem services. Climate change also causes flooding and drought and the way our water shortages affect the poor is a desperate state of affairs. What is of grave concern is the fact that South African temperatures are rising at a rate that exceeds other countries. What does this imply for our poor? In January this year a conference regarding climate change took place in Durban. Delegates were the South African government and scientists appointed by the United Nations. An issue addressed was the fact that our temperatures are increasing at a rate approximately twice that of temperatures globally. Regarding emissions, Mqapheli Bonono, deputy president of revolutionary shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo says “our people can no longer continue to suffer from poor environmental management. The time has come for strategic environmental management to be implemented.”
In 1986 an explosion of a nuclear power facility responsible for the generation of electricity took place in the Ukraine. Radiation released into the atmosphere because of the explosion, killed 30 people in a matter of weeks and residents of the area had to move to other areas. Despite this, South Africa continues to use expensive (for the poor), dangerous nuclear energy for electricity production. Also for the production of power, we continue to use coal. Coal combustion contributes to climate change, causes lung damage, heart disease and other health problems. This is how lightly we prioritise health, despite the constitution claiming our right to dignity. We use these means of production instead of using renewable energy which would generate safe, affordable production of electricity.
Another South African environmental hazard is invasive alien vegetation, although some alien species are useful for wood production. It causes fires that cost lives and destroy infrastructure. They consume excess water while our water scarcity is desperate. An organisation that researches vegetation called Hortgro estimated that alien vegetation in South Africa consumes enough water to supply 3.38 million households of four people each annually. Rhodes University botanist Dr Sheunesu Ruwanza says “biological invasions in South Africa are a threat that needs to be addressed. However, we need to develop species specific management plans that recognise that some invasive species are of benefit to the country”.
Poaching is also hazardous to our environment. It poses a threat to our tourism industry, relied on for economic growth and socio-economic upliftment. The department of environmental affairs claimed 588 rhinos were lost this year due to poaching.
Land degradation is also environmentally problematic. Professor James Gambiza of Rhodes University’s environmental science department claimed that 3.2 billion people are affected negatively globally because of land degradation. One of the many causes is deforestation, which is detrimental to the release of oxygen by vegetation into the atmosphere and ecosystem services. Another cause is over-grazing, which is detrimental to the survival of agricultural livestock. Overgrazing also causes soil erosion which is detrimental to the production of agricultural crops. Expropriation of land without compensation is seen as a new beginning for socio-economic upliftment, largely because of agricultural prospects. However, should South Africa fail to combat land degradation, the question is will expropriation be the beginning of agricultural challenges and obstacles for the marginalised?
Many millions of migratory birds come to South Africa annually. They are part of the provision of ecosystem services. In this way they link global ecosystems and global economies. As they link ecosystems, monitoring their populations can be effective for global environmental monitoring and management. Their populations can serve as warning signs regarding environmental deterioration. South Africa needs to call for intensified diplomatic partnerships with other nations, on the basis of migratory bird population monitoring. This would be mutually beneficial globally and in the interest of working class struggles globally, for socio-economic upliftment. Migratory birds in South Africa have a role to play in controlling mosquito populations, thus minimising the malaria disease. Some migratory birds can be agricultural pests due to their consumption of grain. Their over-population is therefore not in the interest of our agriculture. Migratory birds are relied on in South Africa for our much-needed tourism industry. Rhodes University ornithology professor Adrian Craig says “changes in bird populations can be considered early warning signs of significant potential changes to the environment. This has the potential to impact global societies and economies.”
Many of our people died fighting for our freedom. It is reasonable to assume that our rich natural heritage played a role in the love of the country that caused freedom fighters to make their sacrifices. We need to preserve our rich natural heritage, for it to continue to play a role in the love for our country which causes people to fight for the fruits of freedom from capitalistic bondage.
Our fynbos (category of indigenous vegetation) is an example of our natural heritage. Fynbos has over 9000 species with two-thirds occurring only in the Cape and nowhere else on earth. Fynbos is so unique that it constitutes one of the six floral kingdoms of the world all by itself. No other country can boast that. Table mountain is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and our scenery and rich biodiversity is highly impressive. Our natural heritage is under threat. An example is the endangered wildlife trust’s red data list, claiming that 17% of our mammals face the threat of extinction. Another example is research done by Bird Life SA that indicates that 132 of our bird species are threatened and that 13 of our bird species are endangered critically. Taxidermist for the Albany Museum in the Eastern Cape, Theunis Du Toit, says “we are potentially facing a situation in which much of our natural heritage will only be found in museum collections”. Additionally, “our natural heritage is of vital importance and needs to be highly regarded”.
As James Gambiza says “the environment is life, let’s work together to address current environmental problems for the sake of a better future”. He also says “time for debate is over, let’s do something. Additionally, “environmental problems are not insurmountable”. We need a constitution that effectively safeguards environmental interests. It cannot be disputed that environmental justice is social justice and that environmental concerns are the concerns of the marginalised. Forward with social justice forward! Forward with the fight against capitalist exploitation forward! AMANDLA!
Anthony de Villiers passionately seeks to promote the revolution through commentary. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org