Issue No. 38
The National Water Bill
2 June 1998
Water is a scarce and unevenly distributed national resource that belongs to all the people. Because of the discriminatory laws and practices of the past government, all South Africans have not had equal access to water and the use of water resources. The ANC Government has the responsibility to ensure that the inequalities with regard to access of the nation’s water resources are remedied.
Objectives of the Bill
The main object of the Bill is to manage the nation’s water resources to achieve sustainable use of water for the benefit of all. So it is necessary to provide for the protection of the quality of water resources and for the integrated management of water resources. Powers will be delegated to institutions at regional or local levels to enable everyone to participate in management decisions. The Bill accordingly seeks to provide for the protection, use, development, conservation, management and control of the nation’s water resources. In so doing it takes into account the need to:
- meet the basic human needs of present and future generations
- promote fair access to water
- redress the results of past racial and gender discrimination
- promote the efficient, sustainable and beneficial use of water in the public interest
- facilitate social and economic development
- provide for growing demands for water use
- protect ecosystems and their biological diversity
- reduce and prevent pollution and degradation of water resources
- meet international obligations
- promote dam safety
- manage floods and droughts
Main Features of the Bill
The Bill will develop strategies to simplify the proper management, classification, and protection of the water resources against pollution, and deal with the effects of pollution.
The Bill lays the basis for regulatory water use. Where the new regulatory system might impact on existing rights, provision is made for the payment of compensation in certain circumstances.
The Bill also deals with measures to finance the provision of services, to support the implementation of policies aimed at protection, conservation and the beneficial use of water.
The Bill provides for the establishment of catchment management agencies to involve local communities in water affairs. It empowers the Minister to appoint advisory committees, to provide for the continued existence of certain advisory committees, to establish bodies to implement international agreements in respect of the management and development of water resources shared with neighbouring countries and to promote regional co-operation in respect of water resources.
It empowers the Minister to establish and operate government waterworks and to deal with existing government waterworks.
It contains provisions aimed at improving the safety of dams and provisions seeking to secure access onto and over property of others for water resource management.
The Bill will establish a Water Tribunal for appeals against decisions of an authority and applications for compensation for deprivation of water use rights. It will also provide mediation
Main Differences between the Apartheid Act and the new Bill
The most significant difference between this Bill and the Apartheid Water Act is that the latter was extremely dictatorial.
- Under the Apartheid Act the Minister decided who should get permits to receive water from State dams. Under the ANC the powers of the Minister vest mainly in policy matters
- An NP Minister could declare any area a State water control area and have direct control over such water. This Bill stresses that the Water Affairs Director-General must devolve administrative powers down to local levels as far as possible.
- A Minister in the former NP Government could withdraw water permits issued to people without payment of a refund. With the new Bill, licences for the use of water must be subject to review because of the population growth and increase in water needs.
- Under the old Act, the Minister appointed committees to help with allocating water and it was the Minister’s sole discretion to do so. Under the new Bill interested parties have representation on catchment area agencies, which will give them a direct say in how water is controlled and distributed.
Key Political Messages
- The ANC is committed to ensuring that the basic needs of our people are met. This Bill is for the millions of who have no access to clean water. It covers those who are ignorant about water legislation, who depend on availability of water resources to create jobs and who are concerned about the state of polluted rivers. Also those whose agricultural activities would wither without water and whose very existence would be endangered without water in the rivers and dams.
- The Government is not the owner of the water resources. Water resources are a public commodity which must be regulated to meet the interests of all the users. So no part of our water resources will be regarded as private property.
- The ANC is committed to the sustainability of our natural resources and sound environmental management. That is why the Bill introduces an innovation, a reserve, which is that amount of water required to meet basic human needs and environmental needs.
- Our constitution obliges us to ensure that everyone has the right of access to sufficient water. This Bill will make this a practical reality experienced by all our people.
- The ANC is committed to the economic development of this country. This Bill will ensure that the economy is protected, that water is made available to create new business and that more jobs are provided. It will attract foreign investment by guaranteeing access to water resources with the assurance that there are measures to ensure the continued availability of water.