The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has defended its controversial draft regulations, setting minimum black South African shareholding requirements for water licencing applications in the country.
The DWS gazetted the proposed water licensing regulations in May 2023.
According to the draft regulations, certain enterprises applying for water use licenses to take or store water will, in the future, have to allocate shares of up to 75% to black South Africans for such water use licenses to be granted.
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.
The proposals immediately drew the ire of farmers and agricultural groups in South Africa, who warned that implementing the so-called ‘race quotas’ would be catastrophic for agriculture and threaten food security.
Agricultural industry group AgriSA said the regulations were the most radical and sweeping effort to date toward changing the demographics concerning water use in South Africa.
According to the organisation, 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 food supply.
“This is because focussing 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,” it added.
The regulations have also been rejected by the Western Cape government, which threw its support behind a “needs-based approach as opposed to a race-based approach” in the allocation of water licenses.
“The current water governance system in South Africa is highly problematic and hugely ineffective, and a race-based quota water allocation system will further collapse water governance in the country,” it said.
Department is confused
Responding to the outrage over the draft laws, the DWS expressed confusion over the backlash.
Speaking to Newzroom Afrika, director of Water Allocation at the department, Sipho Skosana, said there was no basis for the outcry.
Skosana said that Section 3 of the National Water Act, empowers the government as the public trustee of the country’s water resources to ensure that it is used to the benefit of all in an equitable matter.
“This is the heart of the discussion and why the department is pursing this policy,” he said.
He noted that there is a huge imbalance in the country – South Africa is one of the 30 driest countries in the world, and 98% of its water sources have already been allocated.
Of the water that has been allocated, 66% is for agriculture – representing 5.83 billion cubic metres used in irrigation. Of that, 5.74 billion is “in the hands of white irrigators,” he said.
This leaves only about 1.6% in the hands of black people, he said.
“This situation is not normal; we can’t have a situation where the majority of the people in the country only has 1% of the water resources critical for development.”
Skosana said that the department’s confusion over the backlash stems from the fact that 98% of the water in the country is already allocated, and the new regulations only pertain to the small percentage that is left.
The department is not changing the 98% that has already been allocated; the policy relates to the remaining 1%, he said, thus, there shouldn’t be any impact on food security as the current agricultural operations shouldn’t be affected.
“We have reached out to AgriSA to engage with them over the matter so they can explain their claims and present facts regarding the threat to food security,” he said.
“Our immediate response is that there is no risk to food security with our policy.”