Historical context on land and water management in South Africa

18 Dec 2020

For many people, the disbandment of the erstwhile apartheid rule in South Africa ushered in hopes of a better life under the democratic dispensation. Water supply remained one of the top deprivations that the natives had to endure after the arrival of the Europeans at the Cape. Realising the hardship faced by the majority of people in South Africa, it was therefore logical that one of the first legislation promulgated by the new government related to water provision, namely, the Water Services Act 107 of 1997 which was followed by the National Water Act 36 of 1998. However, despite some of the good intentions, such as universal and equitable access to water services for all South Africans, contained in the two water laws, some large sections of the population are still experiencing perennial water shortages in the areas. The evolution of the water rights must be put into the broad perspective of South Africa's history which is laden with dispossession of land through laws such as the Natives Land Act (NLA) 27 of 1913, which had a bearing on the availability of land and the supply of water services to the natives. The Water Act 54 of 1956 (Water Act) is used as the point of reference, since it was heralded as the foundation of a structured legislation to water management in South Africa. The aim of this research paper is to explore the historical environment regarding water management in South Africa. Laws constitute the main sources of data for this qualitative research. Literature is rich with historical information on the relationship between land and water in South Africa, and it is upon such a consideration that this paper intends to describe and analyse the historical water management framework with a view to gaining an improved comprehension of the current water legislation in South Africa. The objective of such an analysis is to evaluate the adequacy of the current water laws to alleviate the plight of the marginalised inhabitants. This paper subscribes to the notion that, through historical occurrences in South Africa, the land and water aspects remain inseparable.