On March 18, a South African court ruled that unsafe levels of air pollution in the Mpumalanga province violate residents’ constitutional rights to “an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing” (Human Rights Watch). The case was brought to the court in 2019 by groundWork and Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action.
South Africa has received permission from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to nearly double the number of black rhinos that can be killed as trophies. The money raised from selling hunting rights will support conservation funds for the critically endangered species. Since 2003, South Africa has sold hunting rights for five black rhinos a year. The latest decision increases the quota to 0.5% of the population, which translates to nine black rhinos at today’s levels. The move has received support from some African states and opposition from others.
Late last year, the South African government announced “Day Zero,” the threshold when dam levels would be so low that they would turn off taps and send Cape Town residents to communal water collection points. While this tactic was deemed risky and “apocalyptic,” it ultimately proved effective. The aggressive campaign galvanized citizens into action. Water use is limited to 50 liters/person/day, and those exceeding the limit were subject to heavy fines or having meters installed that shut off water after the limit is surpassed.
South Africa’s Finance Minister announced plans to implement a carbon tax on businesses and companies with high emissions. The carbon tax is expected to take effect January 2019, allowing businesses almost a year to transition toward lower emissions to comply with the law. Currently, the draft Carbon Tax Bill is being considered by Parliament; if accepted as is, it will tax businesses with excessive emissions a rate of R120 (US $10.35) per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Electric fences have been used to prevent human/elephant confrontation as development encroaches on traditional elephant habitats. But elephants are intelligent and soon discover that their tusks do not conduct electricity, allowing them to escape. Alexander Vipond of the Knysna Elephant Park in South Africa invented a simple device, nicknamed “tusk braces,” to discourage elephants from cutting fence wires. The tusk brace is basically a wire fit onto the length of the top of the tusk that turns the tusk into a conductor.
Last week, a constitutional court in South Africa rejected the government’s appeal to retain a ban on domestic trade in rhino horns. Domestic trade is once again legal, though international trade remains illegal under CITES. Commercial rhino breeders have welcomed the decision, saying proceeds from legal trade can help pay for anti-poaching efforts. Conservationists argue otherwise, saying a legal domestic trade will increase illegal poaching and will be used as a cover for smuggling horns to the international market.
The department of environmental resources in South Africa announced on June 8 that a moratorium on the domestic trade of rhino horns has been reinstated. This means that no new permits will be authorized to trade rhino horns or products until the Constitutional Court makes a decision about the legality of domestic rhino horn trade. The moratorium was prompted by an appeal by the department of environmental conservation to South Africa's top court. In May, the Supreme Court of Appeals rejected the government's bid to uphold a seven-year ban on rhino horn trade.
South Africa said it will not seek to lift the global ban on rhino horn trading and will retain its current policy of stockpiling the commodity. Poachers in South Africa kill thousands of rhinos for their horns, which are valuable in Asian markets. South Africa had considered trading rhino horns globally as a tactic to combat poaching activities, but ultimately decided to retain the current policy of keeping the rhino horns rather than selling them.
A South African official announced on November 4 that Northern Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces will be named "drought disaster areas" in the coming two weeks. This will allow the provinces to receive emergency assistance from the National Treasury. According to the Director of Risk Management in the Department of Agriculture, the province of KwaZulu-Natal will also soon be named a disaster area for agriculture. These are not the first provinces declared drought disaster areas in South Africa.
South Africa’s Department for Water and Sanitation announced that funding for a program to clean up toxic water contamination from abandoned mines in and around Johannesburg was recently secured between the Department and the National Treasury. The contamination, or acid-mine drainage, occurs from the flooding of abandoned mine shafts. As the water drains through the mines it is contaminated with toxic metals before returning to rivers and streams.