A bold move by the government to revise the regulations regarding the Procedural Requirements for Water Use Licence Applications and Amendment has received mixed reactions from the agricultural sector.
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 in order for such licenses to be granted.
The amendments were published on 19 May 2023, and the public is invited to submit their written comments on the proposed regulations within 60 days.
African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) president AJ Mthembu said these amendments seek to address not only the thorny issue of equitable distribution of water use but also address new requirements that new applicants need to meet when applying for water licences.
“Afasa welcomes this important step taken by the department as the National Water Act (NWA), no 36 of 1998, followed by the Water Allocation Reform Plan (WAR) of 2005 developed by the department, have failed to transform water rights in the country,” said Mthembu
He added that Afasa strongly believes that it is totally unacceptable that since 1998, 75.93% of water use rights have been allocated to historically advantaged individuals, mainly white farmers, while only 24.07% has been allocated to historically disadvantaged individuals.
Holistic approach needed
Keith Middleton, a Free State commercial farmer, agrees that black farmers should have greater access to water rights but disagrees with the government’s approach.
“We want the government to understand that we need to develop black irrigation farmers. I am one of the very few black irrigation farmers in this country and I see the need.”
According to Middleton, the problem should be approached holistically, adding that he would like to see farms being run as commercial farms by black people.
“However these farms should receive adequate support from the government. But then use those farms to train black agricultural students so that at the end of the day we can produce black farmers.”
Focus, he said, should be placed on the development of black people and proper training for black agricultural students.
Opportunity for partnership
According to Mthembu, this is a great opportunity for black farmers to partner with established and experienced commercial farmers in the sector.
“Such partnerships, if well structured, can lead to a win-win situation that can see growth in agricultural productivity and sustainable food security in our country.
“Afasa’s development strategy focuses amongst other factors, the involvement of black farmers in all value chains of commodities as identified in the AAMP. The revised regulations by the department of water and sanitation (DWS) are seen as offering a good supportive framework for partnerships that will lead to the growth of agribusiness in the sector,” he said.
In the meantime, Middleton added, the issue is that most of the land in water catchment areas is in “white hands”.
“Government wants to marry us with white commercial farmers and form partnerships. I have been in the industry for 16 years and I am yet to see a partnership that has worked in favour of black people.
“We have water but we now have to depend on white commercial farmers to develop. In all the years, why have white farmers not developed black farmers? Simply because they are happy with us being small-scale. They are happy as long as we are not a threat to them,” Middleton said.
WC rejects amendment
The Western Cape department of agriculture (WCDoA) has rejected the “race-based quotas” for the allocation of water licenses.
According to the department, 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 SA.
“Any regulation which threatens jobs is simply a bad policy,” said WC agri minister Ivan Meyer.
“With a devastatingly high unemployment rate in the country and growing inequality, the government should cut red tape and open as many doors as possible to make getting a job as easy as possible.”
Meyer added that the province supports redress in the agriculture value chain through the commodity approach which is “based on collaboration with industry partners who share our approach to transformation”.
“A needs-based approach will not only ensure a fair allocation of water licenses but also protect jobs and food security. As government we have a critical role to play in creating an enabling economic environment, not destroying it,” said Meyer.
Transformation goals unlikely
Meanwhile, 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, said Janse Rabie, legal and policy executive at Agri SA.
“It is well known that the DWS envisages compulsory licensing of existing lawful water uses in the near future (a fact which is emphasised by regulation 13 of the proposed regulations). By far the greatest number of agricultural water uses are exercised in terms of historic existing lawful water uses.”
These regulations, Rabie said, are unlikely to achieve the goal of further transformation in the sector. Achieving this will require creating an environment which is conducive to growth and investment in the sector, and which provides meaningful support for new entrants.
Rabie stressed that this effort by the government cannot 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.
The commentary period on the proposed Revision of Regulations regarding the Procedural Requirements for Water Use Licence Applications and Amendments will expire on 18 July 2023.
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