South Africa's constitutional environmental right (generously) interpreted : what is in it for poverty?

23 January 2013

Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 provides that everyone has the right to an environment that is not detrimental to his or her health or well-being. The nature and ambit of the environmental right relate to ss 27(1) and (2), which provide for a right of access to health-care services and sufficient food and water. Yet the scope of s 24 transcends the modalities of what is necessary for people's 'biological survival', including physical health. Departing from the viewpoint that a strong link exists between the vulnerable poor and the different constitutional entitlements enshrined in s 24, this article explores how poverty influences the way in which the normative content of the constitutional environmental right should be interpreted and applied. Following an interpretative approach, the call is made for an expansive or generous interpretation of the environmental right that takes into account the broader purposes and interests which this right and the Constitution in general, seem to protect.