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Protected Areas

The system of protected areas in South Africa is essential for the preservation of our wildlife, flora, fauna, natural resources and just about anything else that contributes to the natural splendour of our land. It comprises the 21 national parks,1 nature reserves, world heritage sites, marine areas, forests and mountain catchment areas.

The National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 20032 primarily provides for the protection and conservation of ecologically sensitive areas and those which are representative of the Republic’s biological diversity. It falls under the authority of the Minister for Environmental Affairs, who works in cooperation with the provincial MECs.3

A. Special nature reserve

  1. The Minister can proclaim ‘special nature reserves’. It is a criminal offence for anyone to:
    • enter a special nature reserve;4
    • reside in a special nature reserve;5 or
    • perform any activity in a special nature reserve,6

    except Department officials, police or customs officers on official duties, and certain persons with exemptions granted by the management authority of the reserve.7

B. National parks, nature reserves and world heritage sites

  1. It is an offence to enter, or reside in a national park, nature reserve or world heritage site without the written permission of its management authority.8

C. Use of aircraft

  1. It is an offence to land or take off in an aircraft in a special nature reserve, national park or world heritage site, except:
    • on or from a designated landing field; and9
    • with prior written permission of the management authority.10
  2. It is an offence to fly over (or cause an aircraft to fly over) a special nature reserve, national park or world heritage site at a level of less than 2 500 feet (above its highest point) except in the provided flight corridors and then with prior permission.11

D. Mining, development and other activities

  1. It is an offence to conduct prospecting or mining activities in a special nature reserve, a national park, a nature reserve, a world heritage site, a marine protected area, or forest reserves and forest wilderness areas.12

  2. It is an offence to conduct such activities in a protected environment without the written permission of the Minister and the Cabinet member responsible for minerals and energy affairs.13

  3. No development, construction or farming may take place in a national park, nature reserve or world heritage site without the prior written approval of the management authority. It is a crime to contravene this provision.14

  4. The Minister (or MEC) can restrict or regulate development and the carrying out of activities in a protected environment, by notice in the Gazette. Any person who contravenes such a notice commits an offence.15

E. Management authorities

  1. It is an offence to hinder or interfere with a management authority, or a member or staff member of a management authority in the performance of official duties.16

  2. It is an offence falsely to profess to be a member or staff member of a management authority, or their interpreter or assistant.17

  1. These are the Kruger, Kalahari Gemsbok, Bontebok, Addo Elephant, Mountain Zebra, Augrabies Falls, Golden Gate Highlands, Karoo, West Coast, Vaalbos, Tankwa Karoo, Marakele, Richtersveld, Mapungubwe, Table Mountain, Agulhas, Namaqua, Camdeboo, Groenkloof, Garden Route and Mokala National Parks. 

  2. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 21 of 2014. 

  3. The Minister and the MEC’s can make regulations regarding a variety of issues to do with protected areas, resources, etc. (See Government Notice R1061 of 28 October 2005.) It is a crime to contravene or fail to comply with these regulations – see section 89(3) of the Act. 

  4. Section 45(1)(a) read with section 89(1)(a). 

  5. Section 45(1)(b) read with section 89(1)(a). 

  6. Section 45(1)(c) read with section 89(1)(a). 

  7. Section 45(2) and section 45(3). 

  8. Section 46(1) read with section 89(1)(a). 

  9. Section 47(2)(a). 

  10. Section 47(2)(b). 

  11. Section 47(3) read with section 47(3A)(a) and section 89(1)(a). 

  12. Section 48(1) read with section 59(b), (c) or (d) and section 89(1)(a). 

  13. Section 48(1)(b) read with section 89(1)(a). 

  14. Section 50(s) read with section 89(1)(a). 

  15. Section 51 read with section 89(1)(b). 

  16. Section 89(1)(c). 

  17. Section 89(1)(d).