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Rural communities and water governance: understanding participatory processes for catchment management in the upper Umzimvubu catchment.

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Catchment areas play an essential role in water provisioning since catchment areas are the river's source. The management of the catchments is fundamental for good water quality and sustained availability. In the water governance sector, the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach best expresses catchment management ideals. The IWRM was adopted in 1992 in Ireland, Dublin, during the “International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE)”. It encompasses Integrated River Basin Management as its sub-set, which entails public participation in catchment areas. There is a history of inequality among South African citizens due to colonialism, the apartheid regime, and subsequent neglect of rural areas, all of which have affected the water sector. Nonetheless, many programs were reformed after the first democratic elections in 1994 to correct apartheid-era disparities, particularly the necessity for public engagement. The new National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998) and the Water Services Act (Act 108 of 1997) were such legislations, and they were promulgated to replace apartheid legislation. In addition, the "National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS)" formed in 2004 provided a structure to ensure that water resources are used, conserved, developed, safeguarded, controlled, and managed in an effective, sustainable, and equitable manner (RSA DWS 2013:13). Despite these developments, water resources remain threatened by various factors in South Africa, and these require exploring. This study took place in the rural areas of the upper of Umzimvubu catchment (Tertiary catchment T31) at KwaSibi Administrative Area (A/A) under Alfred Nzo District Municipality (ANDM) as its Water Service Authority (WSA). It is within the boundary of Matatiele Local Municipality (MLM) in the province of the Eastern Cape, South Africa. The upper Umzimvubu catchment is under threat and degradation. Noteworthy is that the water quality degradation and quantity shortages are major water issues that ANDM experiences. The water shortage is primarily due to poor catchment management practices, a combination of different factors, including natural, socioeconomic, institutional, and political factors. The natural factors relate to the alien plant invasion in the catchment areas, which causes poor water quality and quantity and soil erosion that increases sediment load. Beyond the mentioned factors, governance plays an important part in managing catchments and the sustenance of good water quality and availability. Good governance, specifically, emphasises new spaces, new actors and new networks. Therefore, this study focused on understanding participatory water governance strategies and processes in upper Umzimvubu catchment (Tertiary catchment T31) management for water conservation within ANDM. This study used two research paradigms, namely the constructivist and the interpretivist, and the research design used was the case study. The primary data of this research study was obtained using four datasets, namely the participants, official documents and sources (including websites), and personal observations to triangulate and complement each other in data analysis. The findings show that there are existing participatory water governance strategies in South Africa and local strategies for water resources management. These include statutory and nonstatutory strategies to decentralise water resources management. They are required by the post-apartheid South Africa's National Water Law, which was passed in 1998 to foster participatory governance. The findings also reveal that the provisions that are made by the National Water Act (Act 36 of 1998) are not yet fully achieved at KwaSibi A/A, since there is no existing and effective statutory body in this area. The findings also showed that current South African legislation has decentralised power and separated mandates from national to local government and contain the participatory processes for cooperative governance. However, the findings show that there are also challenges encountered by local government and community people when it comes to implementing laws and policies, including lack of funding, community protests against local government, and illegal water connections that degrade water resources. The findings also revealed that the community still lacks intense community participation in this study area; they feel neglected in water governance and their traditional water governance practices are not taken into consideration. The findings further revealed that the local people do understand catchment management and degradation. However, they feel less involvement by local government in water governance related issues. In addition, they feel like their indigenous administrative knowledge is not considered in catchment management. Lastly, the findings show that intergovernmental processes are informed by Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) framework, and there is also collaboration in different administrative levels and different government departments. However, this collaboration is not constant, as there are challenges encountered as different government departments have competing mandates. In this regard, good water governance in rural communities remains a concern. Therefore, recommendations include the need to finalise the establishment of the CMA in all nine existing WMAs. A shift in thinking is needed on the part of the government to improve public participation, especially in rural communities. The study also recommends strong consideration of local people to own the public participation process. The community should feel extensively involved in developing strategies for water resources management. In creating rules and procedures, indigenous practices should be considered. Further, rather than a blanket approach, implementation of the IWRM approach should be determined by the local context.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.