Ed Couzens
University of KwaZulu-Natal, School of Law



In South Africa, environmental law is a relatively new issue-area, which has seen the creation of an emerging jurisprudence over the last 15-20 years. It has been pointed out (Kidd, 2006) that many people, including judges and magistrates and practitioners, did not study environmental law formally in their LLBs and might lack exposure to its principles. Students today often seem to struggle also with the principles where these differ from those taught in more “established” LLB subjects. I have been thinking for some time about appropriate ways to explain the area to such people. This paper will offer a model for understanding how environmental law fits into the general legal framework in South Africa, and how it operates. The paper will sketch how environmental law in South Africa is influenced by international legal thinking, customary international law and specific international environmental agreements; and explain how these make their way into South African legislation. The Constitution provides for how specific international environmental agreements and customary law are to be incorporated into South African legislation, but this procedure is not often followed. The paper will then show how South African environmental law operates, with the Constitution at the apex of an umbrella provided by management statutes, supported by “spokes” provided by sector-specific statutes, which are then supported by detailed regulations. The place and role of provincial and municipal legislation, and also of the common law and of judicial interpretation must be explained too. In order to make the explanation understandable, a case study (from KwaZulu-Natal) will be given – showing how after consideration of all of these aspects, the matter might need to be decided in terms of a single extremely specific regulation.


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