Editor’s Note: “Words that Never Die” is a weekly installment of compelling quotes from the world’s most influential people. This week, we highlight an excerpt from Nelson Mandela’s speech at the Conference on National Environment Policy on 17 August 1995.
Amongst the most challenging goals which the world has set itself for the twenty-first century is to try to combine development with sustainable use of the environment.
South Africa needs urgently to develop our industries and to feed and house our people. Therefore, developing a sound environmental policy will call for an exceptional combination of wide-ranging consultation together with scientific and technical expertise.
I, therefore, consider it a particular honour to have been invited to launch a policy process which is as important today as it will be in many decades to come.
The broad range of interests represented here is eloquent proof of the concern towards the environment that is felt throughout our society. That concern augurs well for the future of our environment and indeed the very quality of life of our people in the next century.
One of the hallmarks of the democracy which South Africans are creating is the spirit of partnership which permeates our society. In policy matters in particular, the readiness of the government to consult, and of civil society to share responsibility, are amongst the most striking ways in which we have broken with the past.
The new ethos if fully captured in this national environmental forum as well as all the processes that will follow. They present a unique opportunity for society to participate in policy formulation. In the end, the draft White Paper which will emerge from this should be the repository of the nation's wisdom on this critical matter.
Ladies and gentlemen;
The environmental damage in our country, resulting from years of neglect, is massive. As we set on the course of bettering the lives of the people, we need to find ways to harness the positive links between development and the environment, so that each objective promotes the other. And we need policies targeted at specific environmental problems.
Our environmental policy must take account, amongst other things, of the following:
-the reasonable rights of people to live in an acceptable environment, balancing the rights of present and future generations;
-the need to establish an equilibrium between the demand for natural resources and their availability;
-the need for sustained economic development; and lastly,
-the maintenance of renewable natural resources; the judicious use of non-renewable resources; and the curtailment of pollution.
The Reconstruction and Development Programme sets out the Government's policy framework for the economic development and social upliftment of the people of South Africa. Specific policies must therefore be in accordance with the objectives of the RDP and actively promote them.
This is particularly true for environmental management. We must have development but it would be tragic if we pursued it in a way that exhausts our resources and denies our children and their children the prospect of a dignified existence. We have to manage our environment in such a way that we can attend to short-term needs while planning and doing research to protect the country's long-term interests.
South Africa has environmental problems that could jeopardise our future. Our minerals will not last forever; our energy resources are limited; our marine resources are vulnerable and water has already become a growth limiting factor. These problems can be addressed in one way or another.
But mismanagement of the land has devastating long-term consequences. If our soil is lost, it is lost forever. If it is inappropriately used, the consequences are permanent. Amongst other things, this makes spatial planning and the orderly development of infrastructure and housing extremely important. We are very sensitive to the needs of people to have a place to live, but unlawful occupation of land cannot be acceptable.
Ladies and gentlemen;
We all understand that the environmental challenges of the modern world extend far beyond the survival of single species or merely the well-being of nature. The many and severe global pressures on the environment will demand innovative solutions from the world co