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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Environment, Rural Development and Natural Resources

Environment, Rural Development and Natural Resources is one of the focus areas identified by the South African Human Rights Commission in order to effectively fulfil its mandate of promoting, protecting and monitoring the realisation of human rights in South Africa.  

Millions of people live in South Africa’s peripheral areas. The word “periphery” aptly captures the geographic, economic, and social reality for all these people. Although approximately 35% of South African households are rural, around 57% of all poor households reside in rural areas.

There is a relationship between a safe and healthy environment and the enjoyment of human rights, as well as the protection of people’s rights in relation to the utilisation of natural resources, whilst also taking into account the significance of international instruments in the realisation of these rights.
Strategic Focus Area: Environment, Rural Development and Natural Resources

The work of the Environment, Rural Development, and Natural Resources portfolio is informed by the Constitutional mandate of the Commission, relevant national legislation, and applicable international and regional instruments.

Over the last few years, the work and interventions of the portfolio of Environment, Natural Resources, and Rural Development have focused increasingly on the impact of mining activities on the environment and human rights. The Commission has convened dialogues, workshops, meetings, hearings, and investigations into the environmental, social, and governance issues related to the management of Acid Mine Drainage; business and human rights in the context of extractive industries, particularly mining; public participation in local economic development planning in rural areas; and work related to land reform for improved livelihoods in rural South Africa.

Further, in line with its Constitutional and legislative mandate, the Commission convened an investigative hearing in light of growing reports, in both number and severity, of “illegal mining” activities across the country.

In addition the Commission collaborates with a range of stakeholders in the Environment, Rural Development and Natural Resources as well as with government departments, civil society, and the private sector.

The Commission also initiates hearings and investigations into social and political issues affecting Environment, Rural Development and Natural Resources.

Section 11 Committees
Section 11 Committees are advisory boards comprised of experts from different disciplines and institutions, who advise the Commission on matters and interventions relating to Environment, Rural Development and Natural Resources.  

The committee name derives from the section of the South African Human Rights Commission Act, No. 40 of 2013, and provide for the Commission to establish advisory committees that bring together experts on specific focus areas.

The Commission has participated in Section 11 processes on topical challenges such as Acid Mine Drainage, Land Restitution, and Access to Food Security in relation to Human Rights.  By doing so, issues at the forefront of these committees included the evaluation of the economic and legislative dimensions of the challenges, monitoring of the various state bodies tasked with addressing these challenges and the reports and findings thereof, and addressing advocacy and awareness challenges.

The Commission receives complaints from organisations and individuals concerned with Environment, Rural Development, and Natural Resources.

In September 2016, the Commission hosted a four day National Hearing during September 2016 to address the Underlying Socio-economic Challenges of Mining-Affected Communities in the country. The Commission has received numerous complaints about the negative consequences of mining and in response has had various consultations with affected communities in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. Systemic and complex challenges faced by mining-affected communities have been raised with the Commission, which include, but are not limited to:

•    Non-compliance by holders of prospecting, mining, exploration or production rights with the legal framework, including regulatory requirements and corporate social obligations;
•    Failures in compliance monitoring and enforcement;
•    Insufficient consultation with interested and affected parties, lack of transparency and limited access to information;
•    Limited cooperation and/or collaboration between mining companies, traditional authorities, local government and communities;
•    The creation of tension and division within communities as a result of mining operations; and
•    Limited development and social upliftment of communities affected by mining.

Own-initiative Investigations
The Commission has released a number of crucial reports emanating from investigative hearings. Some of the most noteworthy of these reports being in relation to Unregulated Artisanal Underground and Surface Mining as well as the Systemic Challenges Affecting the Land Restitution Process in South Africa launched in 2015 and 2014 respectively. Particular mention is made of the report on artisanal mining on account of the increase in the number of abandoned mines and illegal mining therein not only in the country but in East and West Africa as well, thus creating an opportunity for future collaboration in information gathering on a regional level.

Advocacy and public education
The Commission regularly conducts advocacy initiatives and public education on issues pertaining to Environment, Rural Development, and Natural Resources.  These include acting as amicus curiae (friend of the court), awareness raising through education, training, public information campaigns, seminars, conferences, dialogues, roundtables, web publishing and use of social media platforms.

The SAHRC has received numerous complaints about the negative consequences of mining and in response has had various consultations with affected communities in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo.  Systemic and complex challenges faced by mining-affected communities have been raised with the Commission.

Domestic Legislation, International And Regional Frameworks on the Right to Adequate Housing
The constitutional environmental right contained in Section 24 of the Bill of Rights, states the following:
“Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and environmental degradation, promote conservation and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.”

The UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
This UN agreement became the watershed for the linkage of environmental protection and human security.  Before this agreement, only three international human rights treaties expressly provided a link between the environment and human rights. These are the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights  (ICESCR), the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), and the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). However, environmental rights were not specifically categorised for specific rules of protection although they established a conceptual framework and approach, which would allow for the introduction of environmental concerns.

At a Regional Level:
The Human and Peoples’ Rights Charter was adopted by the then Organisation for African Unity (OAU) and ratified by a majority of States. Part I includes rights and duties applying to individuals and groups alike, e.g. the right to life (Article 4).
The Charter recognises the right to property (Article 14); and the right to economic, social and cultural development (Article 22). Through a decision by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, SERAC v Nigeria (2001), the Charter is also understood to include a right to housing and a right to food.


•    Commissioner’s Provincial Visit to the Eastern Cape – March 2016.
•    Stakeholder Roundtable Discussion on Underlying Socio-Economic Challenges in Mining-Affected Communities – May 2016
•    Consultations with Mining-Affected Communities in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga – June and July 2016
•    National Workshop on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights –September 2016
•    National Investigative Hearing on Challenges in Mining-Affected Communities – September 2016

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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