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Water usage in agriculture, water usage in Africa, Water purification and recycling solutions, Municipalities and the delivery of water services, National Water Act 1998 (Act 36 of 1998), Water Services Act 1997 (Act 108 of 1997), National Water and Sanitation Master Plan, National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS)


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?

CountryCubic metres per person
Angola10 510
Botswana6 820
Lesotho1 680
Malawi1 400
Mozambique11 320
Namibia8 810
South Africa1 110
Swaziland4 160
Zambia9 630
Zimbabwe1 550
Source: Mike Muller

Some role players

  • African Development Bank Group
  • African Water and Sanitation Association –
  • Eastern and Southern Africa Water and Sanitation (ESAWAS) Regulators Association –
  • IFAT Africa trade fair
  • The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority water project helps to ensure an adequate supply of water to Gauteng in South Africa while also generating hydropower for Lesotho. Visit
  • The Limpopo Watercourse Commission (LIMCOM) enables four Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to manage their water resources – Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
  • SADC Groundwater Management Institute
  • The Water Project (“When water comes … everything changes”) –
  • Water for Africa Institute


Some articles:

International business environment

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

Local business environment

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.

That South Africans consume more water per capita than the global norm (approximately 237 litres vs 173 litres per day) is hardly encouraging!

Sources: and

Find updates on the country’s dams at

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/sectorProportion of allocation
Agriculture: irrigation60%
Agriculture and nature conservation2.5%
Municipal: urban24%
Municipal: rural3%
Power generation2%
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


Municipalities and the delivery of water services

Local government is constitutionally mandated to provide basic services including the delivery of water and sanitation services. These municipalities, however, are experiencing systemic issues that negatively affect this delivery.

Municpal consumer debt and poor financial management

While more households have access to piped water than in 2002, there has been a steady decline in the number of households that pay for this piped water.  This significantly influences the ability of local government to do its job. In turn, as of 31 December 2022, water boards were owed R16.1 billion due to the non-payment by municipalities’ clients (SA News, 2023).

Poor financial audits against municipalities highlight serious governance and accountability issues in local government. Little meaningful action is taken against officials for non-compliance with supply chain management procedures.

Human resources

Municipalities generally lack the technical knowledge, skill and expertise to perform core operational functions.

Lack of planning

Each municipality is meant to have a water services developmental plan (WSDP) along with its integrated developmental plan (IDP). Mostly, these plans are outdated or not implemented. Maintenance, for example, is in most cases no longer performed as a preventative measure but on a reactive basis.


As a result of financial and capacity restraints, municipalities are facing a serious backlog in infrastructure maintenance. They lose almost a third of their water supply.

Non-revenue water use accounts to some 37% of water used. This is water lost through faulty infrastructure, commercial losses (billing errors or theft), and unbilled authorised consumption like fire fighting.

Of enormous concern is the proper functioning of wastewater treatment works. Almost half of the country’s 824 wastewater treatment facilities is in a poor or critical condition. This translates into raw sewage flowing into primary water resources like the Vaal River, severly compromising the quality of water.

Source: Michelle Toxopeus, Legal Researcher, Helen Suzman Foundation (adapted)


South Africa’s rivers

The country’s rivers tend to be in a weakened condition with only 15% in a good condition (Bega, 2023). 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.


“If there are 100 units of rainwater, only eight units end up in a river. We lose more water to evaporation than what ends up in a river. The era of dam building is over, and the future of water storage lies in managed underground storage aquifers”, Prof Anthony Turton, water resource management specialist.

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 of 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 “document library” menu option on
  • Go to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group website – – 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 followed by NWRS2 and, in 2022, NWRS3. 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. Unveiled in November 2019, it spells out government’s short, medium, and long-term strategy to secure water security in the country. The Master Plan seeks 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 or at
  • 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
  • Find other legislation which has an impact on the water sector at 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) Details of provincial customer care walk in help centres can be found on the website.
  • National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency is planned to oversee the supply of water across the country (Mkhwanazi 2021).
  • Available from the Government Information & Communication Systems (GCIS) is the annual, Official Guide to South Africa, of which Energy & Water is a chapter. The notes are shorter than the GCIS yearbook. The Water and Sanitation half includes overviews of the following role players: Water boardsCatchment management agencies (CMAs)Water-user associations (WUAs)Water Research Commission (WRC)Water Trading Entity (WTE)Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA)Komati River Basin Water Authority and the Water Tribunal. It ends with three paragraphs on the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN).
  • Water boards are the affiliates of the South African Association of Water Utilities (SAAWU)
  • Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE)
  • Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) Water Use and Irrigation Development
  • National Treasury
  • South African Weather Service
  • South African Local Government Association (SALGA) Find the “Municipalities” option on the website.
  • South African Bureau of Standards (SABS)


Further reference:

  • Refer to for notes on applications, legislation and planning to do with government’s water and sanitation policies.
  • Refer to the latest GCIS yearbook on for a comprehensive overview of National Strategy. Water & sanitation is one of the chapters. A typical approach to this sector happens under headings like the following:
Water resources management, infrastructure planning and development
Regulating water services
– Consolidated water boards
– Rand Water
– Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA)
– Umgeni Water
– The Water Trading Entity
Other Entities
– Breede‐Gouritz Catchment Management Agency
– Inkomati‐Usuthu Catchment Management Agency
– Water Research Commission
National Water Policy
– National Water Resource Strategy 2 (NWRS2)
– Raw Water Pricing Strategy
– National Groundwater Strategy
– Reuse Strategy
– Infrastructure upgrades and bilateral agreements
– Rainwater harvesting (RWH)
– Desalination Strategy
– Dams and water schemes
– Groundwater resources
– Managing and developing water resources
– Managing water quality and wastewater
Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs)
Dam Safety Rehabilitation Programme
Water Allocation Reform Programme
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)
Integrated Water Quality Management Strategy
Managing water resources under a changing climate
National Water and Sanitation Master Plan (NW&SMP)
National Aquatic Ecosystem Health Monitoring Programme (NAEHMP)
National Toxicity Monitoring Programme
Education and awareness
– Youth development and National Water Week
Regional and international cooperation and initiatives
Acid Mine Drainage

Role players

Further reference:

Associations, industry bodies and NGOs

  • Find farmer unions on the “Organised agriculture” page.
  • 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.


Training and research

  • Included in the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA)-accredited qualifications are ones like “Maintain basic water quality”, “Monitor water quality”, “Maintain water quality parameters” and “Explain the prevention and treatment of animal diseases”. Find the Accredited Qualifications and Learning Material options at


Companies involved

Websites and publications


Visit the websites of the various role players, mentioned earlier on this page.



  • The Water Wheel is a two-monthly magazine on water and water research. Download copies at
  • Water & Sanitation Africa (an alternate monthly publication) is published by 3S Media. Read more at
  • SUSFARMS, the Sustainable Sugarcane Farm Management System, includes notes on water, irrigation and drainage, wetlands and watercourses in its guidelines. Contact the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) for more information. Visit
  • Publications available from the CSIR include Climate Risk and Vulnerability: a handbook for Southern Africa and The National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Areas Atlas. The latter is a HUGE document with lots of maps of freshwater rivers and wetlands that need to be protected. Read more about CSIR publications on the CSIR website,
  • The following DALRRD Info Paks (booklets) can be accessed at “Collecting rainwater from your roof” and “Wetland Values and Functions”.
  • The City of Cape Town’s water map provides information on household water use, treated effluent collection points and water pressure management zones. See See also its THINK WATER portal,
  • Hundreds and hundreds of publications are available from the Water Research Commission. Visit to see what is available.
  • Find WWF SA reports like Scenarios for the Future of Water in South Africa and Water: Facts and Futures on


Some articles



Refer to the many websites under the “African business environment” and “International business environment” headings.

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