AgriSA hopes govt’s ‘vigorous’ water-related policy development will continue post elections

AgriSA hopes progress on water-related policy and legislation will continue under the seventh administration. Picture: Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers.

AgriSA hopes progress on water-related policy and legislation will continue under the seventh administration. Picture: Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers.

Published Jun 3, 2024


AgriSA says it hopes government’s “vigorous” development of water-related legislation and policy will be carried over into the country’s seventh administration, regardless of the outcome of this year’s national and provincial elections.

South Africa’s biggest agricultural organisation said on Friday that the sixth administration would be remembered as a particularly energetic one when it came to water governance, but noted that most of the proposed legislative and policy changes of the past five years remain unfinalised.

According to AgriSA, the developments left hanging include the conversion of irrigation boards to water user associations; hydraulic fracturing regulations; the pricing strategy on raw water charges; regulations regarding the procedural requirements for water use licence applications; and, the National Water Amendment Bill.

It said another major concern was the unfinalised verification and validation of existing lawful water use (ELUs).

“Since 1998, when South Africa’s current National Water Act came into effect, registered ELUs have been allowed to continue as a transitional mechanism, whereby water users may continue using water until such time as compulsory licensing is called for,” it said.

“Until such time as verification and validation of such ELUs is finalised (as expected to be done in 2026), government will arguably not have the most important piece of the South African water governance puzzle.

“This is significant, since without verification and validation of existing lawful water uses being completed, government cannot conclusively show that it knows which water uses are lawfully exercised, by whom, and where (and whom to bill for it).”

AgriSA said a lot had happened since the previous general elections were held in 2019.

It said soon after his election in 2019, then President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to lead the then newly constituted Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation.

In November of that year, Sisulu presented a National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NWSMP) for implementation.

“At the time, the plan was praised for its sobering factual account of South Africa’s water situation,” AgriSA said.

“It contained a comprehensive collection of actions required in relation to water infrastructure development, institutional reform and capital and financial investment, with specific time-lines by which specified actions needed to be performed. The NWSMP was widely consulted upon, and the agricultural sector actively participated in its creation.”

AgriSA noted that in 2021, the Water and Sanitation portfolio was split from that of Human Settlements, and became the responsibility of Minister Senzo Mchunu.

Towards the end of that year, AgriSA said government had approved the appointment of Dr Sean Phillips as (permanent) director-general of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS).

“The DWS also started the process of creating a Vaal-Orange Catchment Management Agency, and published draft regulations on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for comment.”

The DWS also published a long overdue National Water Resources Strategy. This was followed by a draft national pricing strategy for raw water-use charges, and a draft national water infrastructure agency bill, as well as a notice of intention to extend the service area of Overberg Water to cover the entire Western Cape Province.

Extensive stakeholder participation (which included the agricultural sector) was welcomed and characterised the government’s legislative development processes.

At the end of last year, it said the DWS had published a draft National Water Amendment Bill and Water Services Amendment Bill for comment. The former proposes sweeping changes to water governance in South Africa (this process was still underway).

AgriSA said that this year the DWS had introduced a water and sanitation services policy on privately-owned land.