Section 24

Just back from two keynote addresses at the PMSA (Project Management South Africa) Conferences in Durban and Johannesburg, we’ll share with you some experiences and findings in some upcoming blog posts.  There was simply too much ‘good stuff’ to try to encapsulate all of this in one post.

We’d like to start with something fundamental and impressive: the South African Constitution.

An organization – or in this case, a large country – has to start somewhere.  Clearly, South Africa still has problems, but at least there is a vibrant vision in place.  In fact, their vision is somewhat, well, visionary.  In fact, it’s one of the few, if not the only country that states environmental rights so explicitly in their Constitution.  It’s right there, Section 24 in Chapter 2, under the Bill of Rights.

Even the US State Department recognizes this in their “Background Note” on South Africa.

It gets very personal.  In fact, one of the speakers at the “Good in Green” conference in Durban specifically indicated that she – as a director of a company which is involved in construction in South Africa – is legally responsible for her actions with response to the environment and can personally face stiff fines and time in prison for irresponsible environmental actions.  You can read more about how the Constitution becomes “active” in this document called “EnviroCrimes“.

In this document, the government answers the question, “what are we protecting?”:

The environment extends from our everyday surroundings to our whole beautiful country. South Africa’s rivers and wetlands, its mountains and plains, its estuaries and oceans, its magnificent coastline and landscapes all contain an exceptionally rich and varied array of life forms. In fact, our country ranks as the third most biologically diverse country in the world and is the only country to have an entire plant kingdom within its national boundaries.

And they also answer the question, “why is it important to prosecute offenders?”:

Environmental crime has serious social and economic impacts on the daily lives of our people.  For example, the pollution of groundwater can cause cancer in adults and children, while illegal fishing can cause the stock of a particular fish species to fall, resulting in job losses for honest fishers.

So, let’s get to it.  Here it is, directly from the South African Constitution:

Section 24: Environment

Everyone has the right to:

  • an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being
  • have the environment protected for present and future generations

The government must pass laws that:

  • prevent pollution and damage to our natural resources
  • promote conservation
  • make sure that natural resources are developed while also promoting the economic and social development of people

You can read more about this element of the South African Constitution at this site.

So, you’re asking, maybe, what’s the connection to project management?

There are several that come immediately to mind:

  • As mentioned above, this is a bit of a wake-up call to project managers doing business (and projects!) in South Africa; there is this legal connection, traceable to the Constitution, which makes them literally responsible for their actions.
  • The Constitution can be used to help justify many infrastructure projects.  While at the conference I was impressed by some hefty projects to rid the country of invasive species, projects which employed many South Africans – including many project managers.
  • The consciousness of the environmental rights is an ever-present reminder for project managers to think sustainably.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that South Africa was sponsoring this Good in Green conference!