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South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa

Environmental Protection

South Africa has signed at least twenty-four major international agreements concerning environmental preservation, including the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the 1987 Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, or Montreal Protocol. During the 1980s, the government enforced environmental legislation only weakly, however, and the Environment Conservation Act (No. 73) of 1989 further weakened existing practices. Based on this legislation, the government's Council on the Environment proposed a new approach, called Integrated Environmental Management, aimed at accommodating development concerns. As in other countries, many business and community leaders place infrastructure development far ahead of environmental issues, and many voters place a higher priority on alleviating poverty than preserving the environment.

The 1989 legislation and subsequent amendments set out the official objectives in environmental conservation--to preserve species and ecosystems, to maintain ecological processes, and to protect against land degradation and environmental deterioration resulting from human activities. The government requires environmental impact assessments for major development and construction projects, and it imposes fines on industrial polluters. Demographic researchers concluded in 1993, however, that the implications of rapid population growth are potentially devastating to the environmentalists' concerns--they estimate that the population is likely to double by the year 2025, and one-half of the population may then be living in "grinding poverty." As a result of these pronouncements, land preservation and population control became interlinked social causes in the 1990s.

Environmentalists argue that the country's advanced soil erosion and land degradation threaten future generations and will be worsened by overpopulation and overcultivation. Little more than one-tenth of the total land area is fit for cultivation; as much as 500 million tons of topsoil are lost each year through erosion caused by wind and water, and the problem is worsened by deforestation through uncontrolled tree harvesting. Environmentalists also note that industrial pollutants and raw sewage are allowed to seep into streams and lakes, and even into wells used for drinking water in some communities.

As the April 1994 elections approached, environmental activists persuaded ANC leaders to include a chapter on the environment in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), the blueprint for development in the 1990s. The ANC also commissioned an environmental study by the Canadian International Development Research Centre, and the new government gave strong lip service to environmental priorities when it assumed office in 1994.

Later that year, however, as some officials tried to maintain the priority on long-term environmental concerns, they faced strong opposition within the new, financially strapped government and from the business community. The government's Department of Environmental Affairs (formerly Department of Environment Affairs and Tourism) is in charge of coordinating environmental policy, but critics have argued that it is not pursuing this task very aggressively and that nongovernmental organizations lack the financial and political support to effect significant change.

South Africa has sought an exception to the 1973 CITES convention, which governs global trade in animals threatened with extinction. The convention aims to protect the dwindling African elephant population; it first banned trade in ivory products among signatory states and was amended in 1989 to outlaw commercial trade in all elephant parts. South Africa's request was based on local game officials' reports that elephants were not threatened with extinction in South Africa, and that animals being culled offered lucrative trade in hides and meat. By 1995 this petition, unlike earlier petitions from Pretoria, was being given serious consideration among CITES signatories, partly in recognition of the new government's postapartheid needs.


In the mid-1990s, control of the tourism industry was transferred from the Department of Environmental Affairs to the Department of Industry and Trade, partly to give a higher priority to tourist-industry development concerns. Through the new Department of Industry, Trade, and Tourism, the government operates National Tourist Bureaus throughout the country as well as the South African Tourism Board (Satour). Satour, established in 1983 to promote tourism from abroad, has been recognized internationally for its high-quality services.

Among South Africa's many tourist attractions are sixteen national parks and numerous provincial and local game parks, nature reserves, and wilderness areas. The National Parks Board employs more than 4,000 South Africans. Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and Northern provinces is one of the most popular with visitors and is home to more than 140 species of mammals and 450 species of birds. The rare mountain zebra, which is unique to South Africa, is protected in the Mountain Zebra National Park in the Eastern Cape. The Augrabies Falls National Park, site of the fifty-six-meter- high Augrabies Falls on the Orange River near Upington, preserves plants and animals that have adapted to semi-desert conditions. The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, in the Northern Cape bordering Namibia and Botswana, is known for its free-roaming gemsbok and springbok. In addition to game parks, nature reserves, and big-game hunting between May and July, the wine region of the Western Cape is a consistent tourist attraction.

South African tourism figures have risen since the late 1980s and exceeded 3.8 million in 1994 (see table 15, Appendix). More than half of the tourists in South Africa are from other African countries; most of the remainder are from the United Kingdom or Germany. South Africa is a member of the World Tourism Organization and a participant in the Africa Travel Association, which promotes tourist attractions in Africa to the North American travel industry.

Data as of May 1996

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