19 – 20 March, 2024 – JHB, South Africa

What is government doing to ensure a sustainable future?

By Fiona Wakelin


In this article we take a look at what the public sector is doing to embed sustainability principles in departmental policies and programmes and focus on government initiatives aimed at ensuring sustainable environmental practices.


Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

National Biosecurity Hub

In October 2022 the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, and the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, launched the National Biosecurity Hub in collaboration with the University of Pretoria.

“The Hub, an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation’s (DSI) Agricultural

Bioeconomy Innovation Partnership Programme, will facilitate collaborative efforts in the

national system of innovation to support the prevention, reduction and management of

crop and animal disease and other matters related to food safety in South Africa – and will be coordinated by Innovation Africa at the University of Pretoria.

“Comprising industry, academia, science councils and government role players, the Hub

will contribute to sustainable agricultural production and the safe trade of agricultural products, services and processes” – DALRRD

Department Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment + SANBI

Groen Sebenza

In 2013 the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) embarked on a major skills development and job creation pilot programme – Groen Sebenza – a Jobs Fund Partnership Project funded by the National Treasury. 

“Groen Sebenza is aimed at developing priority skills in the biodiversity sector to create sustainable job opportunities for unemployed graduates and non-graduates (school leavers with a matric certificate) for two and a half years.

“Groen (in Afrikaans meaning green) Sebenza (meaning work in isiZulu) brings young South Africans from previously disadvantaged backgrounds together with experienced biodiversity professionals to learn, grow and eventually gain the competence and confidence to embark on rewarding and meaningful biodiversity careers. 

“The programme partnered with 43 host institutions across the country from all tiers of government, NGOs and the private sector and has equipped the participating young people, called Pioneers, with various life and generic skills training e.g. computer literacy, workplace communication, career guidance, leadership and project management skills” – SANBI

In 2022 the Groen Sebenza Phase II Programme was funded to the value of R300-million for the next three years, aiming to recruit 1 050 unemployed graduates (from Diploma to PhD level) and place them nationally in different organisations (government and non-governmental) where they will be trained and mentored in the management of environment/biodiversity.


Green Scorpions

The Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI) –  known by the South African public as the Green Scorpions –  are government officials at national, provincial and local level who are responsible for the compliance and enforcement of environmental legislation.

The Green Scorpions have 3 focus areas:

  • Biodiversity, protected areas (green)
  • Integrated coastal management (blue)
  • Pollution, waste, impact assessment (brown)

Illegal hunting, poaching and entry into protected areas are among the most common illegal activities the Scorpions have to deal with.

They have a growing force to fight these crimes. As of 31 March 2020, the national EMI Register (kept by DFFE) reflected a total of 3 568 EMIs, comprising 3 158 from national and provincial authorities and 426 from municipalities. This is up from 2 675 in 2019. In addition, in municipalities, the 426 designated environmental management inspectors reflect an increase from 382 in the same period.

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Local Authority EMIs per province:


PROVINCE       2018-19         2019-20         2020-21


Gauteng                    61                   68                 66

Limpopo                   26                   35                  38

North West               26                   28               28

Western Cape          88                   75                 79

Free State                  21                    22                 21

Eastern Cape            21                    27                 27

Mpumalanga            18                    18                 18

KwaZulu-Natal        116                 145               145

Northern Cape           5                     4                     4

TOTAL                      382            422               426

The purpose of the Expanded Public Works Programmes – which now fall under the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment – was to combine job creation, poverty alleviation with sustainable environmental practices. We focus on the 8 programmes and the people employed by them, who, whilst not receiving much prominence in the press, are working hard at conserving our most precious resources:


Working for Forest

Forestry is one of the sectors that has the potential for job creation whilst ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources. As part of the Government Greening Programme, the DFFE will coordinate and facilitate the planting of two million trees annually, for the next five years. According to Forestry South Africa, forestry is estimated to contribute about 150 000 jobs, predominantly in rural areas where there are high levels of unemployment. The contribution to the economy is estimated to be in the region of R45.5-billion. – Official Guide to South Africa 2020/2021

Working for the Coast

This programme aims to ensure a healthy and sustainable coastal environment that is maintained and preserved for current and future generations to ensure sustainable maintenance of the coastal environments. Projects in the programme to achieve this objective include:


  1. Improvement of access to and along the coast


  1. Cleaning of the coast


  1. Removal of illegal and abandoned structures


  1. Removal of invasive alien vegetation


  1. Rehabilitation of degraded areas


  1. Monitoring and compliance


Working for Water

Working for Water (WfW) is one of the longest-standing and most successful examples of payments for ecosystem services (PES). Started in 1995, the programme employs local community members to get rid of invasive alien plants – thereby maximising water flow. Over the last 27 years WfW has cleared more than one million hectares of invasive alien plants and provided jobs and training to approximately 20 000 people. The programme is globally recognised as one of the most outstanding environmental conservation initiatives on the continent


Working for Land

Working for Land is all about encouraging and supporting sustainable land use practices, raising awareness and promoting resource conservation ethics. It is a sustainable resource utilisation programme based on community partnerships and cooperation – DFFE


Working for Wetlands

Working for Wetlands’ mandate combines wetland rehabilitation with employment creation – the programme supports small businesses, and transfers skills to its beneficiaries and in its job creation strategy deliberately targets women, youth and people with disabilities. To ensure sustainability, the following 5 key areas are interlinked: 

  • Wetland protection, wise use and rehabilitation
  • Skills and capacity development
  • Co-operative governance and partnerships
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Communication, education and public awareness


Working on Fire

When the fires are raging and the helicopters are circling and the brave firefighters are risking their lives you can be sure that this is the Working on Fire (WoF) programme in action. Working on Fire (WoF) was launched in September 2003 as part of the job creation initiative and now employs more than 5 000 young men and women from marginalised communities who have been fully trained as veld and forest fire fighters.


Working on Waste

The Working on Waste (WoW) programme’s core purpose is the achievement of social and ecological sustainability through the implementation of sustainable waste management practices. WoW does this by:

  • Creating and supporting mechanisms for the protection of environmental quality
  • Creating sustainable livelihoods through recycling of waste (waste collection and minimisation)
  • Supporting the use of environmentally friendly waste disposal technology
  • Promoting community environmental education and awareness 


Working for Ecosystems

Working for Ecosystems aims to reverse environmental degradation through ecological restoration and maintenance programmes. It aims to regain natural habitat composition, structure and function and thereby enhance ecosystem services, such as: carbon sequestration, water regulation and purification, reducing the risk of natural disasters by improving landscape/catchment stability and resilience. This will improve livelihoods security and productive potential of land, improve natural species diversity, and promote the development of a market for ecosystem services and pro-poor economic development and empowerment in rural areas. – DFFE

16th Air Quality Governance Lekgotla

The Air Quality Governance Lekgotla is an annual event which gives government officials the opportunity to share experiences, best practices and to agree on possible solutions/mechanisms in addressing common challenges faced by the government in air quality management. This year the theme was “Strengthening Air Quality Management Systems” and the keynote address was given by Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Makhotso Magdeline Sotyu.

“According to the IPCC 6th Assessment Report, Africa remains amongst the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change.

“As a country, we face a double burden of worsening air quality, and climate vulnerability. Action plans to give immediate effect to a Just Transition by shifting to cleaner and more competitive energy generation technologies, as well as the reducing emissions intensity of the economy to achieve net zero carbon dioxide by 2050, have direct benefits to reducing air pollution,” – Hon. Makhotso Magdeline Sotyu

With so much doom and gloom prevalent in mass media, it is salutary, once in a while, to take a deep dive behind the scenes and see what is being done in South Africa to ensure environmental resilience and sustainability on planet A – because there is no planet B.


October 3, 2023

Written by Editor

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