SUSTAINABILITY

Environmental affair

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Champions in pioneering environmental awareness

Twenty years into democracy, numerous transformational changes have transpired with the guidance of modern era leaders in an epoch that is governed by technological advancements.

According to Bantu Holomisa, CEO of Champions of the Environment Foundation, responsible leadership takes today’s finite wealth and invests it in top class education, fostering communal space where everyone belongs thereby promoting participation in learning and the present.

Born on 25 July 1955, Holomisa is a pioneer when it comes to environmental issues. The United Democratic Movement president, who once served as the Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism and also established the Champions of the Environment Foundation, aired his views about the progress South Africa has made 20 years into democracy in an exclusive interview with BBQ.

Can you please tell us more about Champions? When was it started and where did the idea come from? What exactly do you do?

During my tenure as Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, environment was identified as one of the key terrains in which transformation should take place. Especially for the former homelands and the informal settlements and townships. The Consultative Conference on National Environmental Policy (CONNEP) was launched by President Nelson Mandela on 17 and 18 August 1995. Over the next decade an all-inclusive apolitical body was formed to drive the vision. On 2 December 2007 Champions of the Environmental Foundation was formed to serve as an overseer. The foundation aims to promote environmental concerns and strategies geared towards improving the quality of life of all our people without exception.

Ultimately you are a politician. How do you balance the roles: politician, businessman and environmentalist?

As a head boy in the Transkei, I learnt to love and respect the environment. I believe that it is my duty to do my utmost to address the impact of climate change especially on the lives of the people who live close to the ground and do not have the protection of a built environment. Business plays an important part in sustainable transformation and the green economy with regard to job creation for youth in afforestation, food and energy security.

You have been pioneering environmental affairs for several years now; can you disclose to us some of the projects that you have implemented and their successes?

In 2010 Champions implemented the first afforestation programme with the objective of creating quality jobs and SMMEs. Revitalisation of degraded land in the Lower Ngqungqu Great Palace, Mqanduli EC started with drilling for water and clearing alien vegetation. At present we have created 120 permanent jobs as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), five new boreholes and water tanks provide the community with clean drinking water and better hygiene. A plant nursery and after-care centre provides employment, access to information and learning, fresh fruit and vegetables contribute improved health and eating habits. In 2013 the Royal Houses of the Pondo, Thembu and Xhosa invited Champions of the Environment Foundation to promote projects linked to enhancing rural infrastructure development, food security and carbon sequestration. Informed communities conserve and nurture the environment resulting in greater productivity for the present and future generations. Greenfields projects are specifically structured to develop the Greater Places of Bumbane, Mngqesha, Nyandu, Nyandeni, Qamata and Quakeni – advancing the local communities.

Have we made any waves in South Africa in terms of environmental sustainability over the past 20 years and to what extent? Can you please support your answer through examples?

In December 2009, President Jacob Zuma announced a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34% and 43% below ‘business as usual’ by 2020 and 2025 respectively. In November 2011 the government of South Africa published its National Climate Change Response White Paper setting out its vision for achieving this target and transitioning to a low-carbon economy. Champions of the Environment is actively involved in improving the quality of land and implementing programmes while at the same time creating job opportunities.

Where does SA stand in terms of environmental sustainability, 20 years into democracy?

We have accomplished much, but much still remains to be done to improve local government’s fundamental expertise when addressing the key areas of agriculture, energy, transport and natural resource management. District and Ward Councillors should be trained on a regular basis to develop environmental management and assessment plans in order to minimise any conflict situations amongst developers, communities and local authorities.

But is the government doing enough?

One must always do more – that is what striving for excellence is about. In a country rich in natural resources and biodiversity, there must be more accountability and action. Champions works closely with national, provincial and local government, traditional leaders and private and public entities acting as environmental overseers and advisers.

In reference to the above question, are community leaders and elders educating their people about the importance of environmental issues?

One of the initial projects launched by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and led by iNkosi Phathekile Holomisa continues to address the planned infrastructure rollout to mitigate climate change, soil erosion, water scarcity, food security and carbon offset projects. On the eve of his birthday, King Goodwill Zwelithini invited Champions of the Environment to bring as many trees as possible to plant on the road to the United Nations Framework Climate Change Conference (UNNFCC). Some 34 000 indigenous trees – all endemic to the provinces of KZN – were planted at Enyokeni Palace on 11 September 2011 by traditional reed dancers. The project’s success can be measured by the accolades and endorsements received in writing from Nelson Mandela, King Goodwill Zwelithini and Jacob Zuma.

South Africa recently hosted the C40 Cities Mayors Summit. What lessons can be drawn from hosting such a prestigious summit?

South Africa gains status within the global community where high-level discussions and knowledge sharing is of the utmost importance. Local government is responsible for understanding and implementing regulations and laws. A dire need exists to skill local authorities to recognise the link between human health and the health of the environment and promoting national policies and programmes that seek to rehabilitate the existing ecosystem.

What are some of the biggest challenges that the nation is facing in terms of environmental management and what solutions can we use?

Management, measurement and planning are needed to fast-track learning and development of individuals and organisations to ensure an equitable transaction to a low-carbon economy. The youth requires career guidance to become environmental technologists and scientists set out in the Environmental Sector Skills Plan (ESSP). This will build a credible greenhouse gas inventory. Information and communication technologies will assist with carbon reporting, pricing and taxation scenarios converting raw data into metrics while managing diverse stakeholder and stakeholder expectations.

What role does the media, public and private entities need to play in order to make things better?

In partnership with media owners, Champions would like to facilitate a Young Orators competition for Grade 12 school leavers. This aims to encourage learners to develop their general knowledge, debating skills and self-confidence and teach them how to respect and be responsible about the environment. Both below- and above-the-line campaigns are important to create awareness, share knowledge and give recognition.

Can you briefly outline some of the biggest achievements to date?

The Constitution of South Africa under Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights stipulates that everyone has the constitutional right to have an environment that is not harmful to his or her health and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent ecological degradation, promote conservation and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

What is the importance of becoming a green nation and being sustainable?

Investment in a green economy can contribute up to 46% more restored land by 2030 and greater water availability without reducing land required for the agriculture sector. In addition, it could create jobs for 737 000 people compared to 568 000 under the business-as-usual scenario. A low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy is fundamental for South Africa’s sustained economic growth and wellbeing.

How do businesses benefit through sustainability of the environment?

Increased population numbers and finite resources, including land distribution, will remain areas of challenge and opportunity through the current period of socioeconomic change. Perhaps a shift in focus to living and working environments where rural women of all ages continue to contribute. There is not a single fully viable community that achieves sustainable living without women at the core of community activities.

This interview is not about politics, but how do you see the role of politicians in saving the environment?

A green economy approach – investing in low-carbon technologies, green buildings and renewable energy will create more jobs than a business-as-usual approach, while supporting the same level of economic growth yet with lower emissions of greenhouse gases and less environmental damage.

How should ministers and government institutions aligned to the environment sector work together in a setting where environment and poverty mostly exist in parallel?

As we transition to an all-inclusive, low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy, it is my earnest appeal that this subject be divorced from party politics. We must work together towards achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication taking into consideration South Africa’s economic, social and environmental aspirations and goals.

Farai Diza

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