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Stop treading water: What civil society can do to get water governance in South Africa back on track

7 March 2012 at 1:10 pm

Stop Treading WaterFor National Water Week 2012, the  Centre for Environmental Rights celebrates the central role that civil society has to play in water governance and water resource management by publishing a report entitled, “Stop Treading Water: What Civil Society can do to get Water Governance in South Africa Back on Track“.

The effective governance of South Africa’s scarce water resources plays a crucial role in the realisation of the Constitutional rights to a healthy environment and to have access to sufficient water. There is severe stress on water resources and their management, and the State faces extreme capacity and other challenges in meeting its obligations in relation to water governance.

In November 2011, with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Centre hosted a gathering of civil society representatives and key experts in water governance, whose inputs were the primary source of this report.

In this report, we identify some of the most pressing challenges for water governance, and make recommendations on how civil society can become involved in addressing these. Some of these problems include:

  • many of the tools for the protection and use of water in the National Water Act, 1998 are overly complex and technical, causing significant delays in implementation;
  • the slow processing of applications for water use licences (WULs), and water use authorisations that are plagued by procedural and substantive defects;
  • the delay in rolling out water management institutions and the democratisation of water resource management (WRM) by the devolution to these institutions of WRM powers;
  • the lack of progress in realisation of rights around access to water and sanitation that has reached crisis proportions in many parts of the country, and is usually blamed on implementation failures by local government;
  • the lack of political and institutional priority given to compliance, monitoring and enforcement (CME), and the limitations of criminal prosecution to punish and disincentivise non-compliance;
  • inadequate access to the Water Tribunal, which infringes the Constitutional right to access to courts;
  • the lack of management stability and organisational integrity within the Department of Water Affairs (DWA).

In an attempt to make a positive impact on water governance, this report recommends:

  • civil society coordination, empowerment and strategy development around water governance;
  • strong civil society participation in reviews and amendment of key strategies and legislation;
  • the promotion of institutional stability within the DWA;
  • the improvement of cooperative governance affecting WRM by: support to local authorities; and asserting the water mandate in decisions on mining and agriculture;
  • improved access to information and oversight of water governance;
  • the roll-out, empowerment and resourcing of statutory and non-statutory participatory governance institutions like catchment management agencies, water user associations and catchment management forums;
  • implementation of key statutory WRM tools, appropriately simplified and prioritised;
  • improvement of the quality of integrated WULs and a review of general authorisations;
  • legislative amendments and law reform; and
  • strengthening CME through greater resourcing of the Blue Scorpions, and the incorporation of administrative penalties for non-compliance; and
  • a rehaul of the composition and rules of the Water Tribunal.

In 2012, with the support of funders, the Centre will continue to expand its work on water governance, working collaboratively with partners and stakeholders to assist civil society with the implementation of the recommendations in this report.

Media queries to Robyn Hugo, staff attorney, Centre for Environmental Rights: rhugo@cer.org.za, 021 447 1647 or 082 389 4357.

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Section 24of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

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