AgriSA says race quotas on water licences could be fatal for SA’s farming sector

Concerns have been raised about the Department of Water and Sanitation’s draft amendments around racial quotas and water use and storage.

Concerns have been raised about the Department of Water and Sanitation’s draft amendments around racial quotas and water use and storage.

Published Jun 12, 2023


The Department of Water and Sanitation’s draft amendments to the water use licence could have devastating consequences on the country's food security.

The agriculture sector is already dealing with the ramifications of constant power outages.

AgriSA’s Janse Rabie said the consequences that the draft regulations in their current form will have, with respect to agriculture and food production in South Africa, will be fatal as it will essentially force the transfer of ownership of the ability to lawfully use water, commercial agriculture’s most crucial input factor.

The DWS recently announced draft regulations stating that certain enterprises applying for water users licenses or to take or store water will have to allocate shares of up to 75% to black South Africans in order for such water use licenses to be granted.

Rabie said the consequences for food security and the sustainability of the agricultural sector should these regulations be passed in the current form cannot be understated – they would have a devastating impact on the sector and its ability to provide the country with a secure supply of food.

“This is because focusing solely on ownership, to the exclusion of all other relevant factors, will mean the loss or partial loss of water resources for numerous currently viable commercial farming enterprises,’’ said AgriSA's Janse Rabie.

Rabie said the prescribed minimum black South African shareholding requirements of 25%, 50%, or 75% required for a water use license to succeed depends on the volume of water abstracted or stored or the area covered, in the case of commercial forest plantations.

He said the proposed regulations are seen as the DWS’s most radical and sweeping effort to date toward changing the demographics with respect to water use in South Africa.

‘’The agricultural and forestry sectors appear to be the primary target of the proposed regulations. The agricultural sector accounts for approximately 60% of South Africa’s total water use. It is worth noting that the proposed regulations exempt mining companies, the state and state-owned entities, as well as 100% black-owned entities. Agri SA is of the view that the proposed regulations will have a devastating effect on South Africa’s commercial agricultural sector if adopted in their current form.’’ he said.

By contrast, Rabie stressed that this effort by the government could not have come at a worse time for the sector and the economy, which is already reeling from the impact of load shedding, rural crime and deteriorating public infrastructure.

Meanwhile, AfriForum’s legal team is set to oppose the amendments.

In a statement, AfriForum’s Marais de Vaal said these changes are not well thought through, and AfriForum is concerned that other important requirements in the application process may be overshadowed for the sake of affirmative action.

“The government has a constitutional duty to manage and protect the country’s water resources in a sustainable manner. While South Africa is a water-scarce country, water infrastructure is crumbling across the country, and we are heading for a crisis, transformation is being used as a smokescreen behind which the DWS’s failures hide,” he said.