On the 2nd of April three years ago, the Centre for Environmental Rights had just opened its doors.
The first office was tiny, in Observatory, Cape Town. We had one staff member, one part-time volunteer, a telephone, a computer, some donated furniture and books, a website, one funder – and a mission: getting environmental rights onto the agenda, and providing the legal support that our stakeholders articulated so passionately in the consultation that preceded our establishment.
In these past three years, the Centre has grown from an idea to an organisation of which we are equally fond and proud. Our attorneys, interns and other staff have traveled far and wide in South Africa, meeting with organisations, activists and communities, and witnessing some of the environmental injustices that scream out for a remedy; they have drafted court papers, stared down opposition attorneys, stood up to antagonistic company representatives and unhelpful officials; they have stated their case in Parliament, to government departments, on radio, in newspapers, on our website, and on social media; they have researched the law and uploaded many, many acts and court judgements onto our virtual environmental law library; they have written funding proposals and reports to donors; they have washed dishes, and planted an office garden on a concrete slab. This is an extraordinary and growing group of people, inspired by the idea that everyone really has and should have those rights set out in section 24 of the Constitution:
Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.
Today we’ve celebrated the Centre’s third birthday with a big chocolate birthday cake, and also with the start of a new look for our website – we invite you to watch our website change and grow over the next few weeks, and we look forward to your comments and inputs.
Most importantly, we thank all our stakeholders, clients, funders, board members and partner organisations for their support over the past three years – without you, we would surely not have come this far. The battle for the realisation of environmental rights has only just begun, and much, much work remains. Happy 3rd birthday, Centre for Environmental Rights!