Backlash mounts over controversial water use licence regulations

The Department of Water and Sanitation is facing a backlash over its newly published and revised draft regulations on water use licences.

Civil rights organisation AfriForum has taken a firm position against the regulations, challenging the requirement of 75% black ownership for businesses seeking a water use license.

According to AfriForum, the revised regulations put forth by the department stipulate that applicants for water extraction, storage, and stream flow reduction activities will be evaluated based on certain racial quotas.

AfriForum expressed its concern about the implementation of the changes, suggesting the emphasis on racial quotas might overshadow other crucial criteria in the application process.

It argued that a more thorough and balanced evaluation should be conducted to ensure that all essential requirements are carefully considered.

Marais de Vaal, AfriForum’s advisor for environmental affairs, accused the department of using transformation as a “smokescreen” to hide its failures in managing and protecting the country’s water resources sustainably.

He said that exempting state organs and the mining sector from the regulations implies a targeted effort to impose racial quotas, specifically on the agricultural and forestry sectors’ water usage.

“The government has a constitutional duty to manage and protect the country’s water resources in a sustainable manner,” said De Waal.

“While South Africa is a water-scarce country, water infrastructure is crumbling across the country and we are headed for a crisis, transformation is being used as a smokescreen behind which the department’s failures hide.”

Opposition parties including the DA and the Freedom Front Plus have joined AfriForum in denouncing the introduction of race quotas in water use licensing.

John Steenhuisen, leader of the DA, expressed deep concern over the potential consequences for farmers, livestock, and the overall economy.

He argued that the agricultural sector, heavily reliant on water, plays a vital role in food production and accounts for a significant portion of the country’s water usage.

Implementing race quotas, according to Steenhuisen, could result in livestock perishing from thirst, uncultivated fields, a jobs bloodbath, and adverse effects on water-dependent industries.

He accuses the government of reintroducing racial discrimination, drawing parallels to the oppressive apartheid regime. 

He also accused the governing party of employing race quotas to “incite racial division for narrow electoral gain”.

“It is now beyond all doubt that the ANC, led by Cyril Ramaphosa, is reintroducing racial discrimination across all sectors of society on a scale not seen since 1994,” Steenhuisen said.

“They are doing so in order to divide and rule. The ANC knows it is on track to lose its majority in 2024 and it hopes to use race quotas to incite racial division for narrow electoral gain.

“They do not care one bit about the consequences this will have for an economy that is already crippled by ANC-engineered loadshedding, the collapse of our currency, and growing capital flight.”

The leader of the Freedom Front Plus, Pieter Groenewald, echoed Steenhuisen’s sentiments, emphasizing that South Africa has witnessed a rapid deterioration under Ramaphosa’s administration.

Groenewald argued that the ANC’s racially motivated policies, such as affirmative action and black economic empowerment, have established a new form of apartheid that further exacerbates the country’s challenges.

The controversy surrounding the department’s draft regulations highlights the critical need for a balanced and sustainable approach to managing South Africa’s water resources.

As various stakeholders clash over the issue, it remains to be seen how government will respond and whether there will be any revisions to the contentious race quotas in water use licensing.


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