Hitchhikers’ guide to the legal context of protected area management plans in South Africa
Keywords:biodiversity, conservation, legal requirements, protected area plans, management authorities, management, multilateral environmental agreements, protected area, public trust doctrine
Background: Although formal protected areas in South Africa date back to the turn of the 19th century, requirements for protected area management plans only became mandatory a century later. Prior to the promulgation of the World Heritage Convention Act 49 in 1999, and subsequently the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act 57 in 2003, requirements for management plans were voluntary, and guidance to the plan’s content was fragmented across an array of international, national and provincial policy instruments.
Objectives: As there has been little academic debate on the relevance and content of protected area management plans, an improved understanding of these plans, and the role they play in biodiversity conservation, is required.
Method: This article explores the evolution of the management plan, revisiting its historical and current legal context at international and national scales.
Results: Despite being the principal legislative framework for management plans, the World Heritage Convention Act and the National Environmental Management Protected Area Act did not consolidate the plethora of management plan requirements, and hence did not bring clarity when these conflicted or were ambiguous.
Conclusion: Legal provisions for management plans are highly fragmented. This risks plans not being complete, falling short of the requirement to ensure that protected areas fulfil the purpose for which they were established. A consolidation of relevant provisions, as well as emerging best practices is recommended. This may require the revision of South Africa’s environmental law, to provide greater clarity on the contemporary understanding of the contribution of protected areas to conservation and the well-being of people (viz. the ‘purpose’).