Now the ANC govt wants to seize water rights - AfriForum

Julius Kleynhans says licensing proposal a recipe for the usual corruption and abuse

Proposed water policy threatens food security, says AfriForum

AfriForum is extremely concerned about the proposed revisions to Government's water policy, which includes inter alia proposals on licensing and re-allocating existing water rights (see here - PDF).

The policy review seeks to eliminate what Government believes to be the obstacles to its transformation agenda, but the civil rights organisation has pointed out problems in the proposals which may have devastating effects on farming and the country as a whole if implemented.

According to Julius Kleynhans, AfriForum's Head of Environmental affairs, the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) argued that 62% of the country's water is allocated to agriculture, which contributes only 4% to the GDP. "While this may be the case, agriculture ensures food security, which is every citizen's constitutional right. Depriving farms of water, or dramatically increasing water tariffs for agriculture, will not only endanger food production, but send food prices skyrocketing. The devastating impact this will have on the inflation rate and the poor cannot be underestimated," Kleynhans said.

In terms of the proposed policy, big water users such as farmers and mining companies will henceforth have to apply for water licences. The State will verify each application and licences will be awarded on a "use it or lose it principle".

It is unclear, however, what the conditions will be for awarding such licences or who will benefit financially from such a system. It is also unclear whether farmers will be compensated for loss of water rights, which they have legally purchased, or for the inevitable devaluation of their land.

National Planning Commissioner Mike Muller, a visiting professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, also pointed out the risks associated with such a licensing programme: "The danger is that this could be a water-profiteering charter where black economic empowerment applicants secure water licences and then sell the water to the real users, turning a public resource into private profit with no social benefit."

In addition, irrigation boards as well as the newer water user associations, which currently manage the use of water on behalf of farmers, will be abolished so that the management of water and related infrastructure of pumps, pipelines and canals can be transferred to the DWA.

As things stand currently, the DWA does not have the capacity to perform this task. The DWA is already failing to manage its own infrastructure effectively, and is battling with its oversight and administrative load. Municipal water alone amounts to 36.8% of non-revenue water, of which 25.4% is considered to be losses due to physical leakage (according to The State of Non-Revenue Water in South Africa, 2012).

"The rationale behind the National Development Plan is that proper land reform will bring about a more equitable water use. Using water allocation as a primary driver for land reform, however, is a dangerous move. We live in a water-scare country, and we cannot afford to hold commercial farmers hostage with such a crucial resource," Kleynhans said.

AfriForum has submitted its objections to the DWA and is appealing to its members and concerned individuals to support it in this matter. To voice your objections, SMS "Green" to 31336 (50c/SMS).

Statement issued by Julius Kleynhans, Head: Environmental Affairs, AfriForum, September 30 2013

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