With the high profile that South Africa enjoys in the international arena regarding issues of sustainable environmental development, the newly appointed minister of environment, forestry and fisheries, Barbara Creecy, says she is preparing to consolidate the good progress made thus far.
Creecy tells City Press: “It is always wonderful when you inherit a department that is in good shape and you can build on what your predecessors have done. I am lucky to inherit a department that is extremely well respected in the domestic and international arena.”
Creecy takes over the old environmental affairs department, with two new entities having been added to its functions: forestry and fisheries.
These previously fell under the department of agriculture.
Among her predecessors is the late Edna Molewa, who enjoyed a high profile continentally and globally.
Molewa played a leading role in the negotiations that led to the adoption of the historic Paris Agreement to combat climate change, signed at the UN in April 2016.
She also served as president of the African Ministers Council on the Environment and as president of the African Ministers Council on Water.
Creecy says: “Some of the most pressing issues of our time, such as climate change, fall under this portfolio. President Cyril Ramaphosa is committed to creating jobs and fighting poverty, and this portfolio will play a big role as it is responsible for the sustainability, conservation and management of our natural resources.”
On her drive to the swearing-in ceremony at the presidential guesthouse in Pretoria on Thursday, Creecy stopped by her new departmental offices on the corner of Steve Biko Street (previously Beatrix Street) and Soutpansberg Road, Arcadia, for a meet-and-greet with the team she is expected to lead for the next five years.
“I met the director-general and the deputy directors-general. They are people who have worked there for many years. I am looking forward to getting a much deeper understanding of the issues and, obviously, to doing my bit.”
So confident is Creecy about the team she is inheriting that she quickly dismisses any suggestion that she may bring along new people when she officially starts her duties.
Creecy reiterates her intention to gain a deeper understanding of the departments in her ministry. “There has been a lot of focus on the ocean economy. This is not just to do with fishing but also with the fact that South Africa has a 2 500km coastline, which calls into question what our role is with regard to shipping.”
She says forestry is a big commercial activity that can contribute immensely to economic growth and jobs, particularly in the neighbouring province of Mpumalanga and elsewhere in the country.
She says that while she is trying to learn fast so she can hit the ground running, she is also “fortunate, because even if I have never been at national government before, I have served at executive level in the provincial government for 15 years”.
“I have had three diverse portfolios – in sports, education and finance. What that has taught me to do is ask: ‘How do I enter into a leadership space and quickly understand what the issues are, and how do I then look at starting to add value?’”