A series of unfortunate events: how the battle to save an urban wetland was both won and lost
McKay, Tracey Morton
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Many urban wetlands in South Africa are either lost or degraded in the name of development. Of those remaining, most are less than pristine, even canalised, dredged, drained or filled. This is partly because urban wetlands are often found in strategic locations, and, as such are considered prime development land. A typical example is that of the Libradene Wetland, in Boksburg, Gauteng, which was partially destroyed by an attempt to construct a petrol station on it. This study explores how and why the fate of this particular wetland was sealed. The study explored the roles of the developer, the professionals in the paid services of the developer and various government officials. Although construction in the wetland eventually ceased, no one has been brought to book and no rehabilitation has taken place. The study concluded that although South African wetlands are well protected by legislation [the National Environmental Management Act (107 of 1998); the Environmental Conservation Act (73 of 1989) and the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act (43 of 1983)] the assumption is that developers will comply. If they don’t, then enforcement is difficult. In this case enforcement was slow, during which time the developer continued building and the result was significant degradation. The study makes a number of recommendations: (i) the fragmented administration of environmental legislation pertaining to wetlands should be consolidated under one government department; (ii) relationships between the respective authorities at all government levels needs strengthening; (iii) public participation processes need to be more robust and (iv) the national wetlands database needs to be used more effectively.