Equal access to water is paramount if South Africa is to change


As the country’s water resources continue to be under pressure, the question of equity and the allocation of water for transformation, the goal of which is poverty eradication and promoting sustainable socioeconomic development, is critical.

Given that water is a catalyst for, and affects the development of, the economy, it is reasonable to conclude that a failure to allocate water to previously disadvantaged individuals would undermine the principle of equity.

Equitable access to water and the benefits derived from it are central to transformation and to moving previously disadvantaged people from the periphery of the economy to the mainstream economy.

The department of water and sanitation firmly believes that equity requires much more awereness that for a long time some sections of the population were historically denied access to water and its economic benefits. The upshot of this has been a source of great concern and deprivation.

Yet this does not deny the fact that much work has been done since 1994 to provide clean, quality water to people. It is a constitutional imperative to provide water and any act or omission that deviates from this is at variance with the values of a caring society. But it is acknowledged that these efforts have not gone far enough towards achieving some parity between those who were advantaged and those who were not in terms of access to water.

The importance of transformation in the way in which water is allocated is even more critical when issues of land reform are considered. Any effort aimed at transforming the land ownership patterns in the country should go with the question of equity in the allocation of water.

Giving people an opportunity to work the land without providing them with access to water will defeat the whole project of addressing the disparities of the past. In fact, it would perpetuate the prejudices they have suffered.

Access to water is one of the means of production that cannot be discounted. Thus, water should be part and parcel of any land use meant for production.

Accordingly, the department is setting its sights on making sure that equal access to the benefits of water is achieved.To realise this, the department is fully conscious that this requires looking seriously at matters such as renewing infrastructure, investing in human capabilities, stimulating innovation and technological development, redressing historical inequalities and increasing participation in the governance and management of water resources.

The department, to put muscle behind its efforts to readdress inequity in terms of both race and gender, may set aside water in catchment areas for allocation to previously disadvantaged individuals, more specifically women and blacks. This will be the case in stressed areas when water becomes available.

Yet this does not mean that those who have existing water-use licences will be excluded or prejudiced economically. But it should be emphasised that those who were previously disadvantaged will receive preference when applying for water licences. Thus, in as much as land ownership is getting attention, the issue of water allocation cannot be relegated to a “by the way”. It is a limited resource and an emotive issue and should be up there with other issues of national importance.

To effect transformation of the water sector, though, the responsibility cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of the department. Because water is central for national growth and development, a wide array of stakeholders must play an active part in ensuring that the water sector is transformed for the benefit of all.

Hosia Sithole is spokesperson of the department of water and sanitation, Gauteng region

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Come what may, the UIF will pay

The fund – the main safety net for unemployed workers – will run at an almost R20-billion deficit

‘Terrorised’ family shines a light on traditional leadership for vulnerable...

The ambiguity between traditional and constitutional leadership has been exposed by the violent banishment of an Eastern Cape family

More top stories

Zondo commission: Molefe says Glencore sold Optimum to portray him...

Former Eskom chief executive paints himself as the victim of a plot at the hands of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s former business associates

Municipal workers convicted in R3.5m ‘Christmas cheer’ fund fraud scheme

A fund that was meant to provide much-needed, end-of-year cash for municipal workers was looted by the three signatories of the account

Tshiamiso Trust makes due on silicosis payout

Beneficiaries will now be able to apply to get money from the settlement almost two years after the Johannesburg high court ruled on the matter.

Shootings on Cape Flats claim 14 lives in less than...

At least 50 more police and other law enforcement officers were sent to the area in response to the spate of violence

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…