The department of environmental affairs, which spearheads the fight against invasives in South Africa, only has a permanent presence at one of South Africa’s 72 official ports, OR Tambo International Airport. (Photo: Nelius Rademan)
  • South Africa has a “staggering” invasive alien species problem, with seven new species introduced each year
  • But OR Tambo International Airport is the only official port - out of 72 - where the department of environmental affairs has a permanent biosafety presence
  • Although South Africa has strong legislation and regulations around invasive alien species, compliance has been patchy.


Each year, South Africa loses about R6.5-billion to invasive alien species, according to a new government report. The Sirex wasp, for example, threatens half of South Africa’s R16-billion forestry industry, while plant invasions cover about 80,000km2 of South Africa (an area about the size of Mpumalanga). The report estimates that about seven new species are introduced each year, although they also note that data is limited.

“The known and potential impacts of invasive species in South Africa are staggering,” says Jasper Slingsby, an ecologist who was not involved in the report.

But the department of environmental affairs, which spearheads the fight against invasives in South Africa, only has a permanent presence at one of South Africa’s 72 official ports, O.R. Tambo International Airport. Inspections by the department’s biosecurity unit only operate on weekdays, during office hours, at the airport.

“Illegal imports can however enter the country almost unhindered through the remaining 71 formal ports of entry or after working hours and over weekends at O.R. Tambo airport,” note the authors of the report, which was produced by the South African National Biodiversity Institute and the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University.

However, the department of agriculture (tasked with inspecting agricultural goods) and SARS  officials are present at other ports of entry and sometimes identify instances of non-compliance and alert the biosecurity, the report notes.

The department of environmental affairs declined to comment until the report was official launched. The launch, meant to take place on Thursday, has been postponed, without a new date.

Although South Africa has strong legislation and regulations around invasive alien species (specific regulations were promulgated in 2014), compliance has been patchy.

The report notes that all organs of state in all spheres of government have to prepare invasive species management plans. To date, 29 have been submitted, accounting for 4% of South Africa despite a fine of up to R5-million for non-compliance with the regulations.

Twelve of these management plans were separate plans submitted by the City of Cape Town, and five were from private landowners. Only one of 29 was considered to be of adequate quality, the report authors write.

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