30 June 2005

South Africa: Minister Sets Forestry Charter Cutoff

Johannesburg — WATER Affairs and Forestry Minister Buyelwa Sonjica has given the committee developing a sector black economic empowerment charter until the end of the year to come up with a first draft.

The charter is aimed at increasing the participation of black people in the forestry industry.

Sonjica has in the past spoken out against lack of transformation in the industry, saying black ownership in areas such as the pulp and paper sector was negligible.

According to the department, previously disadvantaged groups own less than 5% of commercial plantations. The department launched the charter process in April this year.

The charter's steering committee, which consists of representatives from various sectors, met for the first time two weeks ago.

The department's spokesman, Themba Khumalo, said Sonjica had told the committee, chaired by Umgeni Water CEO Gugu Msibito, to complete the first draft of the charter before the end of the year.

He said the industry had agreed to assist government regarding the costs of developing the charter.

In a statement yesterday, Sonjica said the department's priority in forestry was to maximise rural development and empowerment.

"This forestry charter process has been met with a generally positive response. This is reflected in the diverse composition of the steering committee," she said.

Members of the committee include Nedcor's Lot Ndlovu, Chemicals, Energy, Paper, Print, Wood and Allied Workers Union general secretary Welile Nolingo, Sappi Forests CEO Dinga Mncube and Mondi Business Paper CEO John Burton.

During her budget vote speech earlier this year, Sonjica said forestry had the potential to create economic opportunities for rural communities. She said in its transfer of government plantations to private management, the department considered possible black economic empowerment opportunities and community participation.

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