“Apart from being essential to all life forms, water is one of several primary inputs in all sectors of an economy and is, therefore, a crucial resource with huge political significance and long political-economic history”. Willem de Lange (CSIR)

South Africa is a dry country by world standards. Its climate varies from desert and semi-desert in the west to sub-humid along the eastern coastal area. Its average rainfall of about 450 mm per year is well below the world average of about 860 mm. Evaporation is high, which places extra pressure on this resource.

No truly large perennial river – such as the Congo, Ganges, Mekong, Nile or Rhine which can serve as a reliable source of water – occurs in South Africa . The highly variable rainfall together with the general steep topography and shallow soils, contribute to the flashy character of our rivers. Groundwater is also limited due to the geology of the country, much of which is hard rock with little water bearing capacity. To further aggravate the situation, the spatial distribution of the water resources is highly skewed with 60% of the total annual runoff arising in only 20% of the surface area of the country (eastern parts). The western parts are much more arid than the eastern part of the country.

Source: www.sancold.org.za/index.php/about/about-dams/dams-in-south-africa

Find updates on the country’s dams at www.dwa.gov.za/Hydrology/Weekly/Province.aspx

Agriculture is an important sector contributing to the country’s food security, rural welfare and contributing to job creation. Its irrigation component consumes over 60% of the country’s water resources to do this, placing a considerable responsibility on the shoulders of all in the sector. Agriculture faces increased competition for water resources from domestic and industrial users. The following table presents the water resource allocations per water user group:

Water user/sector Proportion of allocation
Agriculture: irrigation 60%
Agriculture and nature conservation 2.5%
Municipal: urban 24%
Municipal: rural 3%
Industrial 3%
Afforestation 3%
Mining 2.5%
Power generation 2%

Source: “The State of SA’s water resources” presentation by Trevor Balzer (Department Water & Sanitation 2014)

Upstream and downstream: Green Trust/WWF SA media field trip surveying the work done in removing invasive alien plants. .

In global terms, South Africa is classified as water scarce country. It is the 30th driest country in the world. Possible interventions include:

  • Better use of irrigation technology
  • Recycling water to a potable standard.
  • Desalination of seawater or brackish water.
  • Alien vegetation control: a significant volume of water is used by alien vegetation and control measures aimed at reclaiming the water is an option.
  • Inter-basin and trans-country transfers: The importation of water from central Africa remains an option.
  • Minimise leakages. Leakages is not only wasted water, it is foregone income as well.
  • Virtual water (see next heading)

Source: Dr Willem de Lange, CSIR

Water is a national issue for several reasons:

  • The necessity for water makes it a human security issue. Water is a key to stability in the lives of communities and to the growth of nations.
  • Because South Africa is a water-scarce country, the water we have should be used wisely.
  • Water is closely related to food security and nutrition.
  • Water use behaviours can have a detrimental effect on the quality of our water. Poor maintenance of waste water treatment works, and industrial, mining and agricultural pollutants degrade our water and aquatic life.
  • The costs to the economy of making increasingly toxic water fit for human consumption is an unnecessary, avoidable expense.
  • The trading status of South African agricultural products, both for export and local, is threatened by the quality of water in some areas. The shadow goes further than the safety of the food to the very profitability of various businesses (read “jobs”).

African business environment

Under most scenarios, water is set to become an increasingly scarce resource in Africa. This is particularly true for southern Africa. The continent loses more water to evaporation than any other continent. Droughts and floods from erratic rainfall patterns, population growth, pollution and urbanisation will all translate to water demand outstripping supply by an estimated 40% by 2030.

Which countries have water in southern Africa?

Country Cubic metres per person
Angola 10 510
Botswana 6 820
Lesotho 1 680
Malawi 1 400
Mozambique 11 320
Namibia 8 810
South Africa 1 110
Swaziland 4 160
Zambia 9 630
Zimbabwe 1 550

Source: Mike Muller

Virtual water trade

The water issue for producing food will be resolved through trade and not water management. Food will be produced were it can be produced with the most effective use of water and then traded with less water rich countries… Countries will therefore import products that they cannot produce water-efficiently and vice versa. Mike Muller.

A solution for the southern tip of the continent would be to grow the agricultural sectors of countries such as Zambia, where there is more than enough rainfall.

Doing so would lessen the strain on South Africa where 60% of the water is used for irrigation, and would also stimulate neighbouring countries. South Africa would be able to import the food Zambia grows and also get growing markets for its own goods.

As climate change progresses, along with the expected drop in rainfall, this would help mitigate many of the problems that the country faces with ensuring food security.

Source: adapted from the article “Farming out South Africa’s water worries” on www.mg.co.za.

Water for Africa

In Africa, groundwater is the major source of drinking water and its use for irrigation is forecast to increase substantially to combat growing food insecurity. The first quantitative continent-wide maps of aquifer storage and potential borehole yields in Africa based on an extensive review of available maps, publications and data were done in 2012.

Find quantitative maps of groundwater resources in Africa at http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/2/024009

  • African Rivers Network (ARN)https://sites.google.com/site/africanriversnetwork/
  • African Water Associationwww.afwa-hq.org
  • Eastern Africa Water Association (EAWA)www.eawaonline.org/
  • IFAT Africa trade fair www.ifat-africa.com
  • Lesotho Highlands Water Project helps to ensure an adequate supply of water to Gauteng in South Africa while also generating hydropower for Lesotho. Visit www.lhda.org.ls.
  • The Limpopo Watercourse Commission (LIMCOM), launched in 2014, enables four Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to manage their water resources. See http://internationalwatercooperation.org/tbwaters/?actor=38. On this website, read about other rivers on the continent (and in the world) which are shared by countries.
  • www.africanwater.org – an independent initiative dedicated to the promotion of sustainable water resources management and use
  • The Water Project (“When water comes … everything changes”) – http://thewaterproject.org
  • Water for Africa Institute, www.water-for-africa.org/en/home.html
  • South Africa and Zimbabwe entered into an agreement of Co-operation on Water Resources Management in December 2014 and established the Joint Water Commission (JWC), which is referred to as the Zimbabwe – South Africa JWC (ZRSA JWC). In terms of the agreement, water will be supplied to South Africa from her neighbour.

International business environment

Two-thirds of the world’s population will be affected by water shortages by 2030 (Reinders, 2016).

The 6th of the global goals agreed to by governments in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is “Clean water & sanitation” and the 14th is “Life below water”. See www.globalgoals.org.

www.internationalrivers.org – “at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them”

Local business environment

The reader is referred to other documents listed under heading 7. Of particular usefulness are the following:



8.2.1 Water resources

8.2.2 Water availability

8.2.3 Groundwater availability

8.2.4 High water yield areas

8.2.5 Water requirements

8.2.6 Future water requirements


8.3.1 Water quality problems

8.3.2 State of water quality in South Africa

8.3.3 Trophic states of major dams

8.3.4 Impacts of eutrophication

8.3.5 Groundwater quality

8.3.6 Acid mine drainage


8.4.1 State of aquatic ecosystems

8.4.2 Impacts of freshwater aquaculture

8.4.3 Free-flowing rivers

8.4.4 Invasive alien plants


8.5.1 Challenges to effective water management

8.5.2 Catchment management agencies

8.5.3 Protecting and managing freshwater resources

8.5.4 Ensuring water fit for use

8.5.5 Water use licensing

8.5.6 Management of groundwater resources

8.5.7 Vulnerability and climate change


  • The excellent WWF SA Water: Facts and Futures. Rethinking South Africa’s Water Future (2016). The publication uses seven chapters to organise its take on the topic: Water resources, freshwater ecosystems, engineered water, water quality, access to basic water services, the sanitation revolution, and Working with Water.
  • Find the latest Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) yearbook at www.gcis.gov.za. The chapter on water and sanitation gives overviews of legislation, government programmes etc as well as looking at the country’s water infrastructure. Find a breakdown of the contents under heading 5.
  • The Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) 2017/18 – 2019/20 also contains a water and sanitation outlook for South Africa, with a particular weighting on opportunities (pages 166-172).

South Africa’s rivers

The country’s rivers tend to be in a weakened condition with over 80% of them under threat (Day, 2017). The main problems affecting the quality of the country’s river water include faecal pollution, eutrophication (the inflow of nitrates and phosphates), high salinity, high toxicity (from, among other sources, agricultural pesticides) and acid mine drainage. Faecal pollution (which leads to diseases like cholera and typhoid) and pesticides need to be monitored widely, as they pose health risks to human and agricultural activities.

The web pages of the Resource Quality Services Directorate of the Department of Water & Sanitation (DWA) are at www.dwa.gov.za/iwqs .

Read about miniSASS, a tool which can be used by anybody to monitor the health of a river, at www.minisass.org.

Climate change

The South African agricultural sector will have to plan for the uncertainty introduced by climate change, which is already playing havoc with the country’s water security.

  • Predictions for low rainfall and higher temperatures will result in more evaporation and reduced infiltration.
  • Floods and droughts will be more frequent or more intense.
  • More forceful storms may increase river and groundwater flow, and water storage will become more important.
  • It is also fairly sure that the western side of South Africa will become hotter and drier.

Source: Mike Muller

National strategy and government contacts

South Africa’s Constitution and the Bill of Rights enshrine the basic human right to have access to sufficient water and a safe and healthy environment.

  • The two Acts that enable government to fulfil these rights through the Department Water and Sanitation (DWS) are: (i) The National Water Act, 1998 (Act 36 of 1998), which aims to ensure that water resources are protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable manner, for the benefit of everyone in South Africa; (ii) The Water Services Act, 1997 (Act 108 of 1997), which created a regulatory framework within which water services could be provided. The different acts regarding water are available under the “documents” menu option on www.dwa.gov.za.
  • Go to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group website – www.pmg.org.za – for Annual Reports and briefings of the Department and Water Boards.
  • The National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS), an assessment of the supply-demand ratio in relation to water resources, was initiated in 2004. It has been reviewed and NWRS2 was finalised by parliament in 2013. The strategic objectives are aligned to the National Water Act and the National Development Plan (NDP).
  • The National Water and Sanitation Master Plan is seen as a consolidation of various policies/strategies/legislation (including the National Water Act and National Water Resource Strategy 2) into one plan. The Master Plan is being developed to realize the goals enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa, National Development Plan, as well as Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
  • Read about other DWS programmes, plans and strategies in the yearbook at www.gcis.gov.za or at www.dwa.gov.za.
  • Water resources and services are dealt with in chapter 4 of the National Development Plan (NDP). The 2030 NDP goals seek to provide affordable and reliable to sufficient and safe water and hygienic sanitation. The NDP recognises deteriorating water quality as “a particular problem”. It comments on the importance of “routine and preventative maintenance at municipal treatment plants to keep our water clean. Another cause is the expansion of mining in areas like the Mpumalanga Highveld. It lauds the progress in ensuring greater access to water. While noting the improvement in the Eastern Cape, it makes the point that 75% access is still below the national average. The NDP calls on the country to assure water supplies by investment and reuse. To reduce demand, rather than simply increasing supply is seen as important. Desalinisaion is looked at as a strategy. It lists policy issues and the actions required to meet the 2030 goals. Find the document at www.gov.za/issues/national-development-plan-2030.
  • The Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) 2017/18 – 2019/20 contains a water and sanitation outlook (pages 166-172). “Since SA is a water-scarce country with limited opportunities for further dams, there is a need to rethink sanitation provision with more investment in off-grid, low water, or waterless sanitation solutions. The latter paradigm shift in sanitation provision can also generate jobs and business opportunities in communities”. The IPAP mentions that opportunities exist in “both the water sector and sectors of co-dependence for advancing technologies that enhance water security through recycling, reuse and reclamation, and new reliable off-grid technology options for sanitation, water purification and energy”. Find the document at www.thedti.gov.za.
  • Find other legislation which has an impact on the water sector at www.waternet.co.za. This includes the National Environmental Management Act, 1998 (Act 107 of 1998), Lake Areas Development Act, 1975 (Act 39 of 1975) and the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, 1983 (Act 43 of 1983).


  • Department of Water & Sanitation (DWS) Tel: 012 336 7500 www.dwa.gov.za The Minister is the custodian of South Africa’s water resources, responsible for the formulation and implementation of policy governing this sector. While striving to ensure that all South Africans gain access to clean water and safe sanitation, the water sector also promotes effective and efficient water resources management to ensure sustainable economic and social development. Details of provincial customer care walk in help centres can be found on the website at www.dwa.gov.za/CustomerCare/ProvincialCustomerCare.aspx
  • Refer to the latest Government Information & Communication Systems (GCIS) yearbook on www.gcis.gov.za for a comprehensive overview of National Strategy. Water & sanitation is one of the chapters. The 2016/17 one approaches this sector under the following headings:










  • National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS)
  • Raw water Pricing Strategy
  • National Groundwater Strategy
  • Reuse Strategy
  • Infrastructure upgrades and bilateral agreements
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Desalination strategy


  • Consolidated water boards
  • Rand Water
  • Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA)
  • Umgeni Water
  • Water Trading Entity (WTE)
  • Other role players


  • Dams and water schemes
  • Managing and developing water resources

  • Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)
  • The Water and Sanitation Revolution
  • Strategic Water Partners Network – South Africa
  • Ncorha Water Treatment Works
  • Lushushwane Water Project
  • National Water Resources Infrastructure (NWRI) Programme
  • Regional Bulk Infrastructure Grant Programme
  • Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs)
  • Dam Safety Rehabilitation Programme
  • Support for resource-poor farmers
  • Water Allocation Reform
  • Women in Water
  • Learning Academy
  • Management of water conservation and demand
  • Enhanced Local Government Support Approach
  • Freshwater Programme
  • Monitoring programmes
  • National Chemical Monitoring Programme (NCMP)
  • River Eco-status Monitoring Programme (REMP)
  • National Aquatic Ecosystem Health Monitoring Programme
  • National Toxicity Monitoring Programme
  • Education and awareness Youth development and National Water Week
  • Regional and international cooperation and initiatives
  • Acid Mine Drainage
  • The National Water Act, 1998 sets the framework for the management of South Africa’s water resources. This framework provides for the establishment of water-management institutions, which include catchment management agencies (CMAs) and water-user associations (WUAs). See www.waternet.co.za/policy/ap_water_inland.html.
  • Water boards have been established to operate as water services providers, which mainly entails the provision of bulk water supply. They are the affiliates of the South African Association of Water Utilities (SAAWU), see www.saawu.org.za.
  • Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Tel: 086 111 2468 www.environment.gov.za
  • Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Water Use and Irrigation Development Tel: 012 846 8569 www.daff.gov.za
  • National Treasury www.treasury.gov.za
  • Department of Rural Development and Land Reform www.ruraldevelopment.gov.za Water is required for socio-economic development and growth. Access to clean and piped water is one of the biggest challenges undermining the progress of the rural development.
  • Department of Human Settlements www.dhs.gov.za
  • South African Weather Service www.weathersa.co.za
  • The Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) is responsible for the development of bulk raw-water infrastructure. It also provides an integrated treasury management and financial advisory service to the DWS, water boards, municipalities and other entities that are linked to bulk raw-water infrastructure. See www.tcta.co.za.
  • South African Local Government Association (SALGA) Tel: 012 369 8000 www.salga.org.za Find the “Municipalities” option on the website.

South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) Tel: 012 428 7911 www.sabs.co.za

Role players

Associations, industry bodies and NGOs

Find farmer unions in the “Organised agriculture” chapter.

  • Agri SA Water Desk Janse Rabie 076 451 9601 www.agrisa.co.za
  • Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) Tel: 012 807 6686 www.agbiz.co.za
  • Association for Water and Rural Development (AWARD) Tel: 015 793 0145 www.award.org.za
  • Centre for Environmental Rights Tel: 021 447 1647 www.cer.org.za
  • Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Tel: 011 372 3600 www.ewt.org.za The Source to Sea Programme addresses the need for the conservation of freshwater ecosystems and species in southern Africa.
  • Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) Tel: 021 448 2881 www.emg.org.za Contact the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) for documents and DVDs like “Leaks, debt and devices: a community seeks alternatives (2013, 6 min) “, “Water is Life (2008) – A look at some of the issues facing water-stressed communities” and “Water and climate change “.
  • Federation for a Sustainable Environment www.fse.org.za Find articles like “Agencies set up to manage water use flounder (NEARLY 20 years after they were written into South Africa’s National Water Act, most of the crucial agencies that have the power to authorise water use are still not functional)”, written in June 2017, at www.fse.org.za.
  • Hippo Water Roller Project www.hipporoller.org People are able to transport almost five times the amount of water in one trip, without having to carry 20 kilograms on their heads.
  • Mvula Trust Tel: 011 403 3425 www.mvula.co.za The largest NGO supporting water and sanitation development in South Africa, it has offices across the country.
  • National Business Initiative (NBI) – water efficiency one of their foci. Visit www.nbi.org.za.
  • Save the Vaal Environment (SAVE) Tel: 083 286 3500 www.save.org.za The Vaal River system supplies water to 60% of the economy, 45% of the country’s population (Balzer, 2014).
  • Social Justice Coalition (SJC) Tel: 021 361 0298 www.sjc.org.za
  • South African Association of Water Utilities (SAAWU) Tel: 011 455 0591/0176 www.saawu.org.za Represents Amatola Water, Bloem Water, Magalies Water, Mhlathuze Water, Midvaal Water, Lepelle Water, Rand Water, Sedibeng Water, Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA) and Umgeni Water (find links on the website).
  • South African National Committee on Large Dams www.sancold.org.za
  • South African Institute of Agricultural Engineers (SAIAE) http://saiae.co.za Find “Water Utilisation” on the website.
  • South African Irrigation Institute www.sabi.co.za
  • South African Water Caucus (SAWC) is a network of more than 20 community-based organisations, non-government organisations and trade unions. Contact them through the Environmental Monitoring Group.
  • Southern African Society of Aquatic Scientists www.riv.co.za/sasaqs
  • Strategic Water Partners Network South Africa c/o Prof Barend Erasmus Exxaro Chair in Global Change and Sustainability Research and Director: Global Change and Sustainability Research Institute (GCSRI) Tel: 011 717 6602 Find the blog “Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN) Finance industry joins mission to close South Africa’s R30 billion annual water infrastructure gap” at www.agrihandbook.co.za.
  • Water Institute of South Africa (WISA) Tel: 086 111 WISA(9472) www.wisa.org.za The Water Institute of Southern Africa (WISA) is a voluntary non-profit association comprising water sector professionals, interested parties, companies, government departments, educational and research institutions, local authorities and associated organisations.
  • Water Users Associations (WUAs) include all sectors dependent on a specific water resource which they utilise. Find the document dealing with the establishment, powers and disestablishment of water user associations at www.dwa.gov.za/iwqs/nwa/tmp_Chapter_8.html.
  • Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) www.wessa.org.za
  • World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) SA runs the Sustainable Agriculture and Water Balance programmes with support from Nedbank “to help ensure that healthy, well-functioning natural systems support social and economic upliftment for communities and sectors dependent on the Umgeni Catchment”. Visit www.wwf.org.za.

Training and research

  • ARC-Soil, Climate and Water (ARC-SCW) Tel: 012 310 2500 www.arc.agric.za A wide field of water management aspects are addressed by ARC-SCW. Areas of water management such as improving dryland water use efficiency through water harvesting and conservation agriculture; managing water quality in the environment and for agricultural use; drought and flood monitoring and response farming to climatic conditions are but a few water issues addressed. ARC-SCW is committed to improving water management in South Africa with its ever-increasing water shortages.
  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Natural Resources and Environment Unit (NRE) Tel: 012 841 2911 www.csir.co.za
  • DWS Learning Academy www.dwa.gov.za/LearningA/
  • Energy and Water SETA (EWSETA) Tel: 011 274 4700 www.ewseta.org.za The Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) related to water.
  • Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) Tel: 011 607 9500 www.ecsa.co.za
  • Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) Tel: 021 448 2881 www.emg.org.za
  • Freshwater Research Centre Tel: 021 783 0155 http://frcsa.org.za
  • North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus) (i) Centre for Water Sciences and Management Tel: 018 299 2063 www.waterscience.co.za (ii) Research Unit: Environmental Science and Management Tel: 018 299 2493/2128 Nico.Smit [at] nwu.ac.za http://natural-sciences.nwu.ac.za/WRG The mission of the Water Research Group is to develop a research profile in the following identified focus areas: 1. Use of risk to contribute towards the management and conservation of freshwater ecosystems. 2. Effects of pollution to surface freshwater aquatic ecosystems, emphasising on the responses of organisms, populations and communities. 3. Contribution to the local, national and regional science of aquatic ecosystem health.
  • North-West University The South African Water History Archival Repository (SAWHAR) is permanently based in the new library at the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University. Contact the campus at 016 910 3111.
  • Rhodes University Institute for Water Research Tel: 046 622 4014 www.ru.ac.za/iwr/
  • Stellenbosch University Water Institute Tel: 021 808 9514 www.sun.ac.za/water
  • Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) Department of Environmental, Water & Earth Sciences Tel: 012 382 6232 www.tut.ac.za
  • University of the Free State (i) Institute for Groundwater Studies Tel: 051 401 2793 www.ufs.ac.za/igs (ii) Centre for Environmental Management Tel: 051 401 3939 www.ufs.ac.za/cem
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal (i) Bioresources Engineering Tel: 033 260 5490 http://bioeng.ukzn.ac.za (ii) Centre of Water Resources Research Tel: 033 260 5678 http://cwrr.ukzn.ac.za
  • University of Pretoria Water Institute www.up.ac.za/waterup
  • University of Venda Department of Hydrology and Water Resources Tel: 015 962 8000 www.univen.ac.za
  • University of the Western Cape Institute for Water Studies (IWS) Tel: 021 959 9728 www.uwc.ac.za
  • University of the Witwatersrand Centre in Water Research and Development (CIWaRD) Tel: 011 717 7592 www.wits.ac.za/ciward
  • Water Research Commission (WRC) Water Utilisation in Agriculture: Dr Gerhard Backeberg Tel: 012 761 9300 www.wrc.org.za Find the hundreds of documents and the “Research” option on the website.
  • Water Resources Group www.2030wrg.org

Companies involved

Water purification and recycling solutions



Find a complete list in the “Irrigation” chapter.

Consultants and services

Tanks, instrumentation, pumps and other equipment

See “Water storage”, “Irrigation” and “Pumps and generators” chapters.

  • Hippo Roller Tel: 082 447 1848 www.hipporoller.com
  • Roundabout Water Solutions is a part of PlayPumps International which provides clean drinking water. Phone 011 543 7928 or visit www.playpumps.co.za for more information.
  • WaterMiser Tel: 066 076 0568 www.watermiser.co.za WaterMiser continuously circulates the water in the pipe ensuring that the water that comes out the hot tap instantly. No water wasted.

Websites and publications


Visit the websites of the various role players, mentioned earlier in this chapter.

Magazines and journals

Handbooks, reports, guides

General publications

Some articles


Refer to the many websites under headings 2 and 3.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) researchers say that water rarely leads to conflict but encourage co-operation. Find the 2013 “There is no evidence of coming ‘water wars'” at www.unesco.org.

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