Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Barbara Thomson
Programme Director, you will recall that President Zuma in his address to the nation declared 2017 as the year of Oliver Reginald Tambo. It is because this year marks the centenary of the birth of the late President and National Chairperson of the ANC, an international icon and hero of our liberation struggle.
Tambo’s virtues and legacy has helped to shape the society we now enjoy. His qualities and values found expression in our constitution which we also celebrate this year in its 20th year of existence and which contain the promise of a united, prosperous, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic country, a vision passionately pursued by ORT.
Our constitution is the product of a long and bitter struggle. It is the supreme law of our land and people’s contract to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and human rights.
One of the fundamental human rights contained in the Constitution is the right to a clean environment. Oliver Tambo would no doubt have endorsed the view that environmental policies and laws must ensure that no group or community is made to bear a disproportionate share of the harmful effects of pollution or environmental hazards because it lacks economic or political influence.
The Department of Environmental Affairs is mandated to pursue the implementation of this fundamental human right. As the department will lead the struggle to create a clean environment but we will need the active support of communities if we are to defeat the harmful effects of pollution and other environmental hazards. Communities must be willing to do their bit if we are to achieve our objective of a clean and healthy environment as a lasting legacy of that which OR Tambo believed in.
I want to challenge you, as we gather here to revive that sense of community responsibility epitomized by OR Tambo and join in a collective effort to clean up your local municipality. The leadership of your municipality is concerned over the negative impact, which a dirty environment has on you as a community, which is why they have decided to join hands with the Department of Environmental Affairs in this cleanup initiative.
Programme Director, everyone has a responsibility to protect our environment and initiatives such as this cleanup campaign is an important tool to sensitize the local community on the sustainable benefits of cleaning and taking care of the environment.
Cleaning up the environment does not only create a more pleasant place to live and work in, but also creates a good impression on prospective employers, investors and tourist who may visit our municipality. A clean environment will also make us feel good about ourselves.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all know a dirty environment arises mostly from poor general waste management.
We live at a time and in a society that produces more trash than any other to date. Many retail and food items are packaged in an unnecessary amount of paper and plastic. While these types of packaging may be designed to protect the product or help the product to maintain a longer shelf life, it produces a significant amount of waste.
According to the last study conducted on waste generation in South Africa (in 2011) South Africans generated approximately 108 million tons of waste. To give u a sense of the enormous amount of waste we generate, 108 million tons is roughly equivalent to the combined weight of 10 million double deck buses.
More worryingly is the fact that 98 million tons of waste was disposed of at landfill sites. This means that only 10% of all waste generated in South Africa in 2011 was recycled. Given the high costs of building new landfill sites and the scarcity of available land for landfill sites close to urban areas, it is clear that we need to focus more and more on alternative waste disposal mechanisms such as recycling.
Recycling has enormous economic potential. Conservative estimates put the financial value of the formal South African waste sector at R15 billion. It is time that we wake up to this economic potential of recycling.
Recycling offers job creation opportunities with the potential to reduce unemployment and poverty. I therefore want to call on our local businesses and entrepreneurs to explore the economic opportunities provided through waste recycling and involve our youth and women in such interventions as they are most affected by unemployment and poverty.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no better time to seize the economic opportunities provided by the waste sector than now. We have entered an era where the focus of our ANC-led government is on radical economic transformation.
In essence this means transforming the structure of the economy through industrialisation, broad-based black economic empowerment and through strengthening and expanding the role of the state in the economy.
It means overturning the economic status quo, which continues to be characterized by economic disempowerment of the majority of black people and the shockingly huge disparities in annual average household incomes between white and black households.
Going forward this situation cannot be tolerated any further. As government we must and will utilise to the maximum the strategic levers that are available to the state. This includes legislation, regulations, licensing, budget and procurement to nudge the private sector in the direction of transformation that benefits all South Africans, the majority of whom are black and female.
As participants in the waste sector you must position yourselves so as to take advantage of the new economic opportunities. You must dream big because government, through its radical economic transformation agenda is creating the environment for you to grow from being a waste picker to a black industrialist.
This surely is the vision that OR Tambo had for our country and the time has arrived for us to make OR Tambo’s vision a concrete reality.
I thank you