UKZN coastal zone management and legal expert Professor Warren Freedman congratulated local environmental management expert Ms Vanessa Maclou on the successful completion of the Master of Laws degree.

Titled: A Critical Analysis of South Africa’s Coastal Access Laws in Light of the Principle of Coastal Environmental Justice, Maclou’s study tackled the issue of beach apartheid in the broad sense with a focus on access to the coast. Supervised by Freedman, it uncovered the administrative burden placed on local government that is responsible for giving effect to coastal access laws. Informed by the approaches adopted in England and Scotland, the study recommends some novel solutions to not only relieve the burden on local government but include all coastal stakeholders in coastal management in South Africa.

Commenting on her study she said: ‘I believe that coastal environmental justice in South Africa requires that key coastal stakeholders be assigned decision-powers to ensure that critical aspects pertaining to the coast receive priority attention. I therefore proposed an external Coastal Environmental Agency as the vehicle to bring about the change needed.’

Maclou holds a Bachelor of Science from UKZN with Chemistry and Biochemistry as majors. She completed advanced certifications in Water Engineering and Environmental Science with the University of Pretoria. After gaining more than 20 years’ experience in the field of environmental management, compliance and enforcement at the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA), she decided to study towards an LLM in Environmental Law. She said: ‘Environmental Law is at the dawn of development to focus on current issues such as climate change, pollution, biodiversity and social impact. As this resonated with my expertise and community needs, it soon became my passion.’

Her responsibilities at the KZN EDTEA include policy and processes based on environmental administration best practices with environmental impact development as her main focus area.

Freedman said that he was impressed by Maclou’s commitment to her studies, especially because she had to deal with a serious family health crisis in the midst of writing her dissertation. He said: ‘Vanessa clearly demonstrated that a properly devised and implemented coastal access programme has the potential to make an important contribution to coastal environmental justice in South Africa. I was not surprised, therefore, when one of her examiners described her thesis as “novel and interesting”.’ He added that he was very pleased that this commitment has been recognised through the awarding of an LLM degree.

Highlights in Maclou’s career in environmental management include being selected to be part of a government exchange programme in 2000 which enabled her to study Environmental Technology at the Ngee-Ann Polytechnic Institute of Technology funded by the Ministry of Environment in Singapore.

In 2007 she was designated as one of South Africa’s first environmental enforcement officers often referred to by the environmental enforcement community as the “Green Scorpions”, Maclou said: ‘I was asked to represent the South African government in an exchange programme with the Environmental Agency in the United Kingdom. Together with environmental professionals based in York and Leeds, we worked in a team to review and tackle challenges from a global perspective. These experiences made me appreciate the extent to which South African environmental laws have transformed and how far we have come as a young democracy.’

Words: Hazel Langa

Photograph: Abhi Indarajan