Accessing CER services
Who qualifies for the Centre’s services?
The Centre for Environmental Rights engages in strategic litigation, advocacy, and supports community groups in defending their right to a healthy environment though training and other support initiatives. However, not everyone qualifies for the free legal advice and representation of the CER. In accordance with Law Society requirements, and as read with our Case Selection Criteria (see below), we will only consider cases where the person or organisation requesting advice is unable:
- to afford to engage the services of private environmental attorneys; or
- reasonably to access the resources required to engage such services (this last requirement particularly applies to non-public interest organisations).
What types of cases does the Centre take on?
What can you do yourself?
The following is basic self-help information to assist you to address your environmental concerns.
How to lay a complaint of an environmental violation:
- Phone the Department of Environmental Affairs’ toll-free hotline on 0800 205 005. Once a matter is reported to the hotline (which can be done without giving your name or contact details), either it will be investigated by the Environmental Management Inspectorate (also called the Green Scorpions) or referred to another department (such as the Department of Mineral Resources, if the complaint relates to a mining company). You should be provided with a reference number for your call. Keep a copy of that reference number for any follow up on the matter.
- Send an email to NEMAcomplaints@dmr.gov.za if your complaint relates to a mining company not complying with its licences or environmental laws and/or committing an environmental crime.
- Phone the Department of Water and Sanitation’s call centre on 0800 200 200 if your complaint relates to the pollution of a water resource, or phone the Department of Water and Sanitation’s fraud and corruption hotline on 0800 701 701 if your complaint relates to fraudulent activities.
- Make sure that you provide as much detail as possible on the violation, including the correct address and exact location of where the violation has occurred.
- Follow up on the matter regularly after you have lodged the complaint.
How to access public and private information concerning environmental issues:
In terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA), all state departments and private companies of a certain size are required to publish a PAIA Manual which, amongst other things, must set out which categories of records are automatically available from that public or private body without having to formally submit a request for access to information in terms of the PAIA. The first thing which you should therefore do when looking for a particular record is to find the PAIA Manual for the relevant state or private body (this document should be on their website, but a general internet search is often quicker).
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), for instance, has committed to making a wide range of information automatically available, including copies of environmental authorisations, waste management licences, atmospheric emission licences, and Biodiversity Act permits. Members of the public can email Phumzile Sabeka (PSabeka@environment.gov.za) at the DEA for copies of these licences in relation to specific facilities. Similarly, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has committed to making copies of water use licence applications, water use licences, and audit and compliance reports available to the public automatically. Members of the public can email Puseletso Loselo (LoseloP@dws.gov.za) at the DWS for copies of these documents.
Should the information which you seek not be automatically available, you can submit a formal request for access to information. These are relatively simple to prepare. The South African History Archives (SAHA) has prepared a useful guide on how to submit a request in terms of the PAIA. To access this guide, and other useful information on the PAIA, visit SAHA’s website. Also see the CER’s Quick Guide to Using PAIA under our Transparency Programme.”
Find out more about South Africa’s environmental law:
Please also see:
- A Practical Guide for Mining-Affected Communities, published by the Legal Resources Centre (May 2016): a practical guide detailing the steps that concerned parties and communities can take to address some of the challenges that mining poses.
- When Mines Break Environmental Laws: How to Use Criminal Prosecution to Enforce Environmental Rights, with Schedules: Offences and Penalties (February 2013). Read more about this guide.
- Mining and your Community: Know your Environmental Rights (February 2014)
- Community Casebook on Mining and Environment (February 2014)
- CER Minimum Requirements for the Regulation of the Environmental Impacts of Fracking (December 2013)
- Full Disclosure: The truth about corporate environmental compliance in South Africa (September 2015). This report provides detailed information about the environmental compliance of and disclosure by a long list of well-known South African corporations. Read more about this report.
Other non-profit organisations that provide or facilitate access to pro bono environmental law services
Private attorneys specialising in Environmental Law
If you or your organisation does not quality for pro bono legal services, you can approach one of the following reputable attorneys with expertise in environmental law: