Is It Time To Relook Water Governance In South Africa?
Farmer's Weekly|April 16, 2021
The number of rivers in South Africa deemed to be in a poor ecological state has increased alarmingly in recent times. James Brand, a senior associate at ENSafrica’s Natural Resources and Environment department, argues that the many frustrated citizens affected by contaminated water supplies might be better served by new, independent water governance structures and amendments to the country’s water laws.
Lloyd Christie

The South African Human Rights Commission recently gave government stakeholders 60 days to respond after it ruled that the continued flow of raw sewage into the Vaal River, as well as into homes and public areas in the Emfuleni Local Municipality, was a violation of human rights.

This follows a precedent-setting High Court judgment in December 2020, where a judge ordered the imprisonment of the municipal manager of Kgetlengrivier in North West for 90 days, suspended on condition that raw sewage spilling into the Elands and Koster rivers be cleared up within 10 days.

Both of these outcomes were driven by the actions of local citizenry fed up with having to endure a contaminated water supply. Previously, other spheres of provincial and national government had failed legally to oversee, support, intervene and, where required, step in to secure protection of the quality of South Africa’s water resources.

AN ECONOMIC ENABLER

Delegating the micromanagement of water governance to a local level is in line with international best practice, and is reflected in the Constitution and South African water laws. However, we need to pause and take a look at whether this model, in its present form, is suited to South Africa. This is particularly so given the critical importance of water and a recent study suggesting that most municipalities are in financial distress, and in many cases face significant management challenges.

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