President Jacob Zuma laughs as he delivers his State of the Nation address after the formal opening of Parliament in Cape Town on Thursday evening.

Cape Town - Half of South Africa’s precious freshwater resources are generated from just eight percent of the country’s land surface area – but much of this area overlies abundant coal reserves in places like Mpumalanga, says conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature SA (WWF-SA).

Responding to President Zuma’s State of the Nation address last week, the group said it had hoped the president would have dealt explicitly with the conflict between conserving water sources and exploiting coal.

“Furthermore, WWF would like to see greater leadership on how the impacts of coal mining on water will be minimised, after Mining Minister Susan Shabangu recently proposed that coal be declared a ‘strategic resource’.”

The group welcomed the State of the Nation address with its emphasis on social infrastructure, and

congratulated the government on the establishment of the R800 million Green Fund and investments made in green economy projects.

“However, we caution that key environmental matters were not addressed. What is even more worrying is that these very issues will have a profound effect on the future health of our economy and well-being of our people,” it added.

It noted that Zuma had referred in his speech to the development of two new dams: the Umzimvubu Dam in the Eastern Cape and construction of the first phase of the Mokolo Crocodile River Water Augmentation scheme near Lephalale and Thabazimbi in Limpopo.

WWF-SA demanded to see how the catchments supplying these dams would be managed.

The group said it had concerns about fracking for shale gas since the lifting last year of the moratorium on fracking in the Karoo, as it doubted the government’s capacity and willingness to implement and monitor stringent environmental standards – “given the poor record in the mining sector”.

It recognised the government’s rollout of renewable energy projects.

“But for renewables to have lasting and beneficial impacts on our economy, we have to have a much longer term horizon for the development of the renewable sector in the country.

“South Africa needs to move away from its minerals intensive economy to other sources of growth, and our main interest is in expansion of the green economy.”

It had also wanted President Zuma to have said more about rhino poaching.

“This is a critical issue with broader impacts on both the national economy and security.

More than two-thirds of our poached rhino horns are exported through Mozambique, and it’s critical that our president takes this matter up with his Mozambican counterpart.” - Cape Argus