South Africa, and specifically the Western Cape, is renowned for its remarkable landscapes, diverse flora and fauna, and wildlife species. Taking into account our ever-growing population and buzzing economy means that there’s a need to protect our environment for generations to come.
Environmental laws help to protect our environment by rendering conduct which harms the environment illegal. Environmental crimes are generally treated in the same manner and with the same seriousness as any other crime, but specialised units are required to monitor and enforce the laws as scientific and legal skills must be developed to effectively combat such crime.
The Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning has a dedicated unit of Environmental Management Inspectors (Green Scorpions) who ensure that there is compliance with environmental laws.
Green Scorpions investigate environmental crimes, including the:
- illegal dumping of hazardous and toxic waste,
- illegal developments inland and on the coast, and
- incidents of significant pollution or ruin of the environment.
The main function of the Green Scorpions is to enforce legislation required by section 24 of the Constitution, which guarantees that every individual enjoys the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being.
In May 2015, the Western Cape Government more than doubled the capacity of the Green Scorpions in the province with 25 officials from municipalities across the Province successfully completing the Environmental Management Inspector course presented by the Provincial Government. Green Scorpions across the 3 spheres of government regularly conduct joint enforcement operations and cooperate in complex investigations.
Fahd Said, Acting Head of Region 2 Environmental Law Enforcement said: “I feel privileged to be called a Green Scorpion, I have a love for nature and the environment. I don’t think I could work in an office all day, I enjoy being out in the field knowing that we are making a difference in protecting the lives of people by preserving our environment.”
Green Scorpions are entrusted with an array of law enforcement powers, which include:
- arresting offenders,
- entering and inspecting any building, land, or premises without a search warrant,
- seizing of items used in the commission of a crime, and
- the power to stop, enter and search vehicles, vessels, and aircrafts.
They may also issue directives and compliance notices (failure to comply with such notices is a criminal offence).
Recent success story
The Western Cape Provincial Environmental Management Inspectorate (also known as the Green Scorpions) continues to make steady progress in combating illegal dumping in the Western Cape.
In May 2016, the principal of a high school in Cape Town appeared in court on charges of illegal dumping at the school. Dr. Eshaam Palmer, the Province’s Director of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement says there have been a number of illegal dumping cases at school premises in the province and the Green Scorpions had to take action as the dumped material constitutes significant harm to the environment and poses a danger to learners.
Ensuring our communities become more environmentally responsible
The protection of the environment will secure the basic needs of people and thus ensure their future existence and survival. Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell said part of the work of the Green Scorpions will entail educating communities to be more environmentally responsible.
The Minister applauded the Green Scorpions, labelling them as the “province's foot soldiers” in tracking environmental crimes. “The Green Scorpions are not always popular, but they are increasingly vital given the proliferation of environmental challenges in South Africa. It’s crucial to get communities to cooperate and work with the authorities. At the end of the day it’s to everyone’s benefit to protect our environment as best we can,” Bredell said.
To report any environmental crimes please call the national 24 hour hotline on 0800 205 005 and also visit the national Department of Environmental Affairs website for more information.