Outdated laws give farmers, landowners sole water ownership, MPs hear

2016-11-02 17:50
River. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

River. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Parliament needs to help change existing laws that give landowners and farmers the sole rights to water running through their property, the Department of Water and Sanitation said on Wednesday.

Existing "sunset clauses" meant farmers and landowners benefitted from water historically found on their property, at the expense of communities close by, the portfolio committee on water and sanitation heard.

The department's Marius Keet said the current problem was a legacy of an apartheid-era Water Act from 1956, which meant farmers enjoyed "riparian rights".

"If you were a farmer, and you're right next to a water stream, you had the only right to use the water," he told the committee.

"The effect of this is that water users not located near the rivers were at the mercy of any residual water."

Keet said the 1998 Water Act changed this act in law, but the practice continued due to the sunset provisions.

The sunset clauses still recognised the historical ownership rights of farmers and landowners in cases where a licence had yet to be granted.

"That water needs to be unlocked," he said.

'Use it or lose it'

READ: Drought continues despite rains – Umgeni Water

Cabinet approved 12 new policy positions in December 2013. Parliament needed to pass the new policy into law through an amendment of the 1998 Act.

The position included a "use-it-or-lose-it" principle, he said.

"One of the principles of the 1998 Act is that all water, wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all, the use of which shall be subject to national control."

The water and sanitation minister should be the custodian of all water in the country, he said.

A process of compulsory licencing would take place to allow for a fair allocation of water to individuals, communities and landowners alike, and would be conducted in 2018/19.

'Life and death'

The rural development and land reform department told the committee that another problem of existing legislation meant that water owned historically was in the name of the seller, and not the farm. Therefore, individuals who did not necessarily operate the farm still owned the unused water.

African National Congress MP Hlomani Chauke said the department and Parliament needed to look at the role of transformation in any amendments. Various indigenous communities were still excluded from enjoying water found near where they lived.

Democratic Alliance MP Tarnia Baker said time frames needed to be reviewed for water protected by sunset clauses.

Committee chairperson Lulu Johnson said the proposed 2017 amendment deadlines were too far away as the issue was urgent.

He said Parliament would look at expediting the change in laws sooner than the mid-2017 proposal as water was a "life and death" issue.

Read more on:    water  |  parliament 2016

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