Managing Water Resources in Developing Countries: South Africa As An Example for Policy And Regulation

 Prvoslav Marjanović1, Harmony Musiyarira2, Chris Reynders3


1 Institute for the Development of Water Resources „Jaroslav Černi", Belgrade, Serbia (ex-Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa), 80 Jaroslav Černi, 11223 Belgrade, Serbia, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

2 The Polytechnic of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia, Private Bag 13388 Windhoek, Namibia

3 Chris Reynders Consulting, Johannesburg, South Africa, e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


The paper presents a review of South African water policy and legislative framework drawing attention to both the process of development and implementation issues. Institutional arrangements and tariff policy are also discussed and attention is drawn to deficiencies in implementation. Clear distinction is made between water resources protection and management and water services (water supply and sanitation) provision and deficiencies that remain in the overall system. The review is based on available documentation and includes theoretical and practical considerations that emerge. The conclusion that South Africa can be used as a good example for policy and legislative frameworks for other developing countries is made provided that sufficient capacity exists within institutions to implement the policy. Without adequate capacity, any policy

and legislation can fail to deliver on set objectives. The necessity for clear separation of regulatory and implementation functions is stressed as a prerequisite for success.

Keywords: Water policy, water resources, water services, integrated catchment management, South Africa




The political changes in South Africa, and the emergence of a democratic system based on a new constitution with a strong human rights content, have provided an opportunity for thorough review of policy in all sectors, not the least of which is water. After the first democratic elections in 1994, the water policy of South Africa went through a process of structured change covering all aspects from new water related policies and legislation to institutional restructuring.

The chance created by the political changes provided a "window of opportunity" for progressive policy makers in the South African water sector to bring about changes which were long overdue. Rare are countries to which such an opportunity presents itself and a great deal of energy has been spent since 1994 to take full advantage of this period of South Africa's history. The process of policy change in the water sector in South Africa is in its final stages at present and will take some years to complete.

The experience of South Africa makes the point that the last chapter in policy development is never written. Policy is dynamic - it reflects the changing priorities of society and the government, and the challenges posed by complex and rapidly changing systems. Indeed, the call for integrated approaches such as those embodied in South African water policy and legislation reinforce such concerns (POLLARD and DU TOIT, 2008). This is because water systems are characterised by complexity in which an understanding of linkages, multiple drivers and unpredictable outcomes is critical. It is suggested that any attempt to define and implement appropriate and effective governance within the water sector, as well as rehabilitation measures, requires understanding that catchments are complex dynamic systems requiring an adaptive management approach. South Africa's well respected and internationally recognised National Water Act and policy documents such as the National Water Resource Strategy are examples of policies that reflect integrated systems thinking and provide for the development of a holistic understanding which is strategic and adaptive. Sustainability and equity principles are firmly embedded through an integrated, systems approach.