Saai brings a PAIA application against Department of Water and Sanitation regarding water rights

Saai, today brought a formal application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) against the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) requesting access to information to provide transparency on the data according to which the department determined that 98% of all water rights belong to white people.

This statistic is used by the DWS to justify its controversial regulations according to which white farmers must cede 25% to 75% of their enterprises to black beneficiaries to obtain water licences. Sipho Skosana, director of water allocations at the department, told the TV news channel eNCA that their research indicates that 98% of South Africa’s water resources belong to white people, while it is the minister’s mandate to ensure that water rights should reflect the composition of the population.

Apart from the Vatican City in Rome, there is no other country in the world where water rights reflect the composition of the population. In South Africa, 65% of the population who live in cities cannot do anything with an equal share of the country’s water, while the farmers in the countryside cannot produce any food without water. Why should a city dweller in an apartment in Hillbrow have a share of water equal to an irrigation farmer between Keimoes and Kakemas?

The value of and investments in water infrastructure such as irrigation systems, storage reservoirs, canals, and distribution networks, as well as liability for the outstanding debt on them, is not addressed by the department, nor is the price paid for water rights.

Saai questions the department’s statistics because there was no transparency in the research, the data, the methodology, or the specific results per catchment area, and it is therefore impossible to verify the statistics.

However, this is not consistent with data from other departments, the central statistics service, or any other government institution. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development reported to parliament that approximately 9% of commercial farmland was transferred to black beneficiaries through restitution and redistribution programmes. Much more was transferred to black, brown, and Indian farmers in private transactions. In October 2017, Landbouweekblad showed in its comprehensive research results that 26,7% of South African farms, and 46% of the production potential (i.e. water-rich lands) are black-owned. Saai wants to know if all these farms were transferred without water rights and if so, why?

The department’s statistics imply that all farm owners who are not white jointly own 2% of all water rights, but they do not own it alone. The water rights of millions of communal small-scale farmers who farm in 14% of South Africa in the traditional tribal areas, the former homelands, must also be considered. Saai also demands data on the water rights allocated to mines, industries, conservation areas and settlements and where they fit into the remaining 2%.

It is unclear how state water, water in the 26% of the surface of South Africa that belongs to the state and water for primary consumption in towns and cities was accounted for in the department’s statistics.

The department is suspected of trying to withhold the data from the public because it is not based in science.

“There is a possibility that senior officials in the department do not know the true state of affairs and understand so little about water resources and consumption that they are really under the impression that 98% of all water rights belong to white people,” says Dr Theo de Jager, Chairperson of of Saai’s board of directors. “What is more frightening than this scenario is that the department’s management does know what the actual water figures are and wilfully distorts them to inflame racial tension in the run-up to the 2024 elections, sabotaging the livelihoods and employment opportunities of hundreds of thousands of people and want to further polarise South Africa with a populist attack.”

“By forcing the department with a court application to place the data in the public domain and subject it to scientific investigation, Saai wants to establish the department’s agenda, capacity and efficiency,” concludes De Jager.