The creation of a separate water and sanitation department was good news for Edna Molewa. She lost the most troublesome part of her portfolio and was given sole control over the relatively effective environment department.
But other departments do not co-operate fully with the department of environmental affairs. Molewa is too often a proponent of co-operative governance and her department keeps losing out to the more industrial departments – such as mineral resources – because they are seen to create more economic potential.
With this as her sole mandate, Molewa needs to be more vocal in pushing for a country that has environmental considerations at the centre of its policies. In the quest for short-term economic growth, the department of environment affairs has been stripped of the most important areas under its control.
Mining, which causes catastrophic damage to water, agriculture, human health and the environment, largely oversees itself, with the mineral resources department being the regulatory body.
Molewa’s department has focused on air quality regulation. The legislation seeks to limit air pollution by major industries because of the cost to people’s health. But Eskom has asked that it be exempt from these controls and Sasol is contesting the legislation.
Rather than seeking a compromise, Molewa would be advised to stand firm on the right to a healthy environment.
The most effective environmental-corporate legislation is being pushed by the treasury, with its plan to tax carbon emissions by industrial polluters.
These efforts seek to make South Africa a healthier place. But Molewa is loath to speak out against fellow politicians. She has to do more to support the great work being done by the core of dedicated people in her department.
The environment department is rare among national departments in that it is not tainted by corruption scandals and its staff structure is stable. It does have a 12% staffing shortage, but this is a problem of supply because much of its work is in new areas.
In 2015 Molewa needs to play less to politics and start standing up for her department.