Environmental problems in Southern Africa may be classified within two rough categories: in South Africa, with its relatively advanced economic development, most problems involve the environmental effects of intensive industrialisation, such as pollution of the soil, water and air. In contrast, in rural regions, including in the former "homelands," poverty-related environmental damage plays a larger role. Both problem areas are subsumed within the global environmental changes that are leading to increasing drought and precipitation catastrophes.
A rather conventional idea of nature conservation still dominates in the countries of the region. This is shown by the establishment of nature parks and wildlife reservations, which have not yet been widely accepted by the population. Although environmental protection is gaining in overall political prominence in the region, economic interests focus on the export of agricultural and mineral raw materials as well as promotion of nature tourism. In contrast, environmental issues in today’s Southern Africa have become a matter of survival for the majority of the population. An effective fight against poverty will be possible only in conjunction with careful exploitation of natural resources.
The goal of the "Societal Democratisation and Sustainable Development in Southern Africa" component (Southern Africa Environmental Component for short) is to promote environmental activism and to strengthen the environmental protection movement in the region. Traditional emphases of the Heinrich Böll Foundation include support for environmental activists and grassroots groups in the areas of mining, biodiversity and water. Both currently and in the future, the topic of "Energy" will come to the forefront as well. The Foundation supports civil-society actors in gaining the qualifications to participate effectively in the debate on nuclear power and alternative energy concepts in the region. Special support is also provided to promote the environmental rights of women.
Project partners in the environmental program are non-governmental organisations. They often build bridges between grassroots organisations, government authorities, economic industries and international organisations. For example, one of these project partners is the "Environmental Monitoring Group" (EMG) in Cape Town, which works in the areas of mining and water. On the issues of renewable energy sources and nuclear energy, the Foundation works in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban with several groups from "Earthlife Africa" (ELA).
The Foundation made it possible for numerous representatives of civil society to participate actively in the global conference World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in September 2002 in Johannesburg. The international and regional prominence of the Summit was utilised to raise and popularise environmental concerns in the region. The "Jo’burg Memo," published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation as a civil-society position paper on the WSSD, was also received with enthusiasm internationally.
In areas where environmental destruction worsens the living conditions of the people – including directly threatening their lives – those affected must have both the courage to protest and the opportunity to do so. With its environmental program, the Heinrich Böll Foundation fosters these two conditions, thus contributing to the community, regional and international search for sustainable development strategies.