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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Legal Services & Advice

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, 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?

The Centre only takes on a limited number of strategically selected cases that have the potential to result in systemic changes that promote environmental and climate justice, and the realisation of Constitutional rights.

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 [email protected] 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 ([email protected]) 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 ([email protected]) 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 see the CER’s Virtual Library of environmental law. For free access to a large database of South Africa’s law, including environmental law, see

Please also see:

Other non-profit organisations that provide or facilitate access to pro bono environmental law services

Private attorneys in smaller law firms specialising in environmental law

If you or your organisation does not qualify for pro bono legal services, you can approach one of the following smaller reputable law firms with expertise in environmental law: