by Martin van Nierop

On the evening of Thursday, 9 February 2017, South African President, Jacob Zuma, delivered his State of the Nation Address (#SONA17). Did environmental issues (care for the environment) feature in his address? Not directly.

While acknowledging that the President could not address everything in his speech, as an environmentalist the radio silence on environmental topics is disquieting. Surely sustainable development and care for our environment is important to our country’s long term survival?

However, looking more closely, there were a number of items relevant to the environment. These are cause for both celebration, and perhaps alarm.

While talking about crime prevention, the President mentioned: “We welcome the decline in rhino poaching incidents since October 2015, which is for the first time in a decade. This arises from intensive joint operations by law-enforcement agencies.” This is certainly cause for encouragement, but a lot more surely needs to be done here.

The energy sector is South Africa’s largest contributor to emissions of Greenhouse Gases. The President indirectly spoke to this: “Work is continuing to ensure energy security. Renewable energy forms an important part of our energy mix, which also includes electricity generation from gas, nuclear, solar, wind, hydro and coal.” The move to renewable energy will go a long way to mitigating our impact on climate change, but perhaps the pace should be more urgent?

The president also spoke about infrastructure: “On road infrastructure, SANRAL has started with the planning phase of the R4.5 billion project to upgrade the current Moloto road.” The impact of infrastructure development on the environment can be devastating. This needs to be managed. Those involved in these infrastructure projects, including engineers, contractors, etc, need to be aware of this. On a side note, Gondwana (in collaboration with TMC) are presenting a course entitled “Environmental Management for Infrastructure Projects”.

One of the ways to ensure that the environment is protected is through education. The President addressed the concerns of the country related to difficulty of access to education because of high fees. He said: “Let us engage to identify the most pressing needs and allocate our limited resources accordingly. Let us build our self-reliance and move forward in the spirit of unity.”

So, while the environment was not directly spoken about during #SONA17, which is a concern, there are some positives to be taken home.

If you wish to know more about Gondwana’s services and courses feel free to contact us: www.gondwanagroup.co.za

Martin van Nierop is the Managing Director of Gondwana Environmental Solutions