The 1998 National Water Act is one of a number of environmental legislative reforms promulgated in post apartheid South Africa that reflects international principles of good environmental practice while seeking to redress past inequity of access to natural resources. The Act incorporates a set of guiding principles agreed at the 1992 Dublin International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE), including: Integrated Catchment Management (ICM); stakeholder participation; devolution/decentralisation and placing an economic value on water. The reforms, which radically change the principles of ownership, access and use of water in South Africa, are internationally regarded as a pioneering attempt to regulate water use in ways that are environmentally sound and socially fair. A key element of the regulatory framework is the establishment of decentralised Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs) representing the interests of different water users, and funded by the levy on all water use of a Catchment Management Charge. Irrigation Boards, which represent the interests of the irrigation sector and manage the resource on the micro scale, are to be transformed into more inclusive Water User Associations. The paper presents empirical findings from a detailed study of the Inkomati Water Management Area, where the CMA process is most advanced. Detailed case studies of sub-catchments were undertaken to explore how the various existing and potential water users negotiate their future water use within the emerging framework of the CMA. Water use has been heavily developed in the catchment by industry, commercial forestry, and irrigated agriculture, and water scarcity now presents an obstacle to expansion of water supply for household use in black communities, for irrigation by black farmers, and for environmental conservation. Along with the formal positions of the institutions involved, the key issues of transformation are examined, and the ICWE principles are evaluated as a basis for designing regulation of water use.
Manchester, UK, CRC Working Paper, No. 89, 53 pp.