Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
humpback dolphin, bantustans, black rhinoceros, overfarming, pangolin
South Africa has a mixed environmental heritage. Its national parks, reserves, and botanical gardens are among the best-managed conservation areas in the world, but there are serious environmental problems too. The most serious environmental threats are uncontrolled livestock grazing, rampant urban development, and surface disturbance and pollution associated with mining. Many problems originated from political and socioeconomic policies associated with the apartheid period that ended in 1994. Overpopulation in the former bantustans, or black homelands, led to intensive settlement, livestock grazing, fuelwood cutting, and overfarming on limited areas of land, which in turn led to soil erosion, land degradation, deforestation, desertification, and bush encroachment (proliferation of bush vegetation of little value for grazing). These problems are prevalent in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Half of South Africa’s population does not have access to clean water and many urban residents do not have access to adequate sewage disposal and waste removal. Such problems are particularly acute on the fringes of cities in informal settlements, or shantytowns, where water courses are often used as dumping grounds.
Air pollution is significant, due to the use of open fires for cooking and heating. Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants are another major cause of air pollution, leading to acid rain in the High Veld region. Pollution is also severe in Mpumalanga Province, where the stable character of the atmosphere prevents pollution from dispersing.
Concern for the environment has grown since the country’s emergence from apartheid, and efforts are under way to save a number of endangered species, including the black rhinoceros, the pangolin, and the humpback dolphin. Extensive areas have been reforested to conserve soil. South Africa’s extensive system of protected areas includes several national parks as well as hundreds of nature reserves and a number of private game reserves. Together, these areas protect about 5.4 percent (1997) of the country’s total land area. The government has actively encouraged the voluntary participation of private landowners in the protected area system, which represents an important source of income for the country. In some cases the government has chosen to raise funds by selling off some of its parks to private developers.
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