From IPS, writer Mantoe Phakathi tells us about the misguided attempt at protecting the environment, while others are allowed to pollute without fear of law.
Through the Flora Protection Act, 2001, the Minister of Tourism and Environment, Macford Sibandze, has threatened to take legal action against people found to be cutting down trees for commercial gain, including firewood vendors.
"Although this law addresses issues of protected plants, we’re also targeting those people cutting live trees and those harvesting in large quantities," said Sibandze.
Although he observed that firewood vendors are cutting down trees on a very small scale, he said the action is necessary to prevent the practice from spreading.
Sibandze said the crackdown is part of Swaziland's contribution to the response to climate change. African countries are said to be contributing 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions mainly through deforestation.
"Inasmuch as we understand that the trees are a part of a livelihood for many people who are poor, we also have to ensure that we harvest the natural resources in a sustainable manner," said Sibandze. "This applies across the board - whether you’re poor or not."
Thuli Makama, the director for Yonge Nawe Environmental Group, argues that what government has to appreciate is that the fundamental principle of environmental management is to sustain human beings.
"Poverty levels are very high and people are exploiting one environmental resource or another just to earn a living," said Makama.
Makama who knows the firewood vendors well says they are not just irresponsible people but a group with a code of conduct which they adhere to.
"The problem with our laws, like in most African countries, is that they’re always targeting the small men," said Makama. "We can’t be frying sardines when we have sharks."
Makama is basing her argument on the fact that big industries in the country such as SAPPI Usuthu - due to close down at the end of the month - have not been taken to task over pollution. The paper milling industry has been heavily criticised by environmentalists for releasing toxic effluent into Usushwana River which runs across Matsapha Industrial Site, leaving downstream communities with no water to drink.