FSE’s Preliminary Comments on the Minister of Water and Sanitation’s decision to consolidate the 9 Catchment Management Agencies into one Catchment Management Agency.


(Reg. No. 2007/003002/08)


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The following comments are submitted on behalf of the Federation for a Sustainable Environment.

The Federation for a Sustainable Environment (FSE) is a federation of community based civil society organisations committed to the realisation of the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health or well-being, and to having the environment sustainably managed and protected for future generations. The FSE’s mission is specifically focussed on addressing the adverse impacts of mining and industrial activities on the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable and disadvantaged communities who live and work near South Africa’s mines and industries.  


The FSE’s comments ought to be read in conjunction with the SAWC’s Report on the State of the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), which reveals deeply concerning institutional and governance challenges in the DWS, and lays bare a situation of institutional paralysis within the department and associated deterioration in financial management, service delivery, policy coherence and performance. In brief, the central challenges facing the department, outlined in the report, relate to the following:

Considerable human resource and organisational challenges including the suspension of senior managers, high staff turnover and vacancy rates and intensified capacity constraints;

Serious financial mismanagement related to over-expenditure, accruals and failure to pay contractors and corresponding escalation of debt, overdraft of the Water Trading Entity and debt owed to the Reserve Bank, irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, poor revenue collection and corruption allegations;

  • Considerable policy and legislative uncertainty related to inter alia the proposed Water Master Plan, proposed Water and Sanitation Bill and the proposed National Water Resources and Services and Sanitation Strategy;
  • Failure to publish Blue Drop (water quality) and Green Drop (waste water treatment) reports since 2013. The Blue Drop-Green Drop reports are arguably the only comprehensive assessments available to the public and water service authorities on whether water and wastewater treatment plants are functioning and complying with water quality standards. The absence of such assessments has considerable implications for management, operation, risk mitigation, remedial action and refurbishment plans related to treatment plants – and hence water safety and water quality;
  • Deterioration in wastewater treatment works and infrastructure due to lack of maintenance and investment, with initial findings of the 2014 Green Drop report indicating that 212 waste water treatment plants fall within a “Critical Risk” categorisation. These plants pose serious risks of completely untreated sewage entering rivers, streams and dams. This has dire impacts on water quality and human health including enhancing the spread of diseases such as e-coli, hepatitis A and diarrhoea;
  • Significant deficiencies in compliance monitoring and enforcement. Notably, DWS only has 35 compliance and enforcement officials for the whole country, and has never published a specific water compliance and enforcement report. The 2016/17 National Environmental Compliance and Enforcement report highlights that DWS has completely failed to undertake meaningful enforcement action against offenders. In 2017/2017, of 321 facilities inspected, 76 of which were found to require enforcement action, DWS has had zero (0) convictions for criminal offences. Despite widespread non-compliance, DWS has only suspended one water use licence since 1 January 2008.

We now refer to the Media Statement by the Department of Water and Sanitation on the 11th of January 2018, stating: 

“The National Water Resources Strategy established the nine WMAs in South Africa with the intention to establish a CMA in each of the WMAs. The department has taken a decision to implement a single CMA to perform water resource management function in the nine water management areas. To achieve this, five of the six established CMAs will be discontinued. These will include four non-functional CMAs, which are Pongola-Umzimkulu, Limpopo-North West, Vaal and Olifants and the functional Breede-Gouritz CMA (BGCMA).


“In terms of the National Water Act the department has finalised the development of the business case and it was approved by Minister Mokonyane and gazetted for public consultation on 15 December 2017. The business case was submitted to National Treasury for listing. The Government Gazette set out the proposed establishment of the CMA, its proposed name and area of operation and invited written comments to be submitted on the proposal for sixty working days.”

We hereby, in response to the invitation to submit written comments regarding the proposal to consolidate the 9 (nine) Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs) into one CMA, submit the following comments:

The FSE is opposed to the proposal for the following reasons:

The Constitution of South Africa provides the basis of the country’s progressive environmental legislation by guaranteeing South Africans the right to an environment that is not harmful to health and wellbeing and the right to sufficient water.

As such, South Africa adopted national water legislation that serves as a tool in the transformation of society based on social and environmental justice. In combination, the Water Services Act and the National Water Act were designed to achieve the following:

[…] redress the inequalities of racial and gender discrimination of the past; link water management to economic development and poverty eradication; and ensure the preservation of the ecological resource base for future generations. 

The National Water Act (NWA) was promulgated to redress the inequities of apartheid’s legacy by setting revolutionary water reforms in motion. One of the main principles of the National Water Act is its focus on decentralisation. Decentralisation places an emphasis on public participation in water management and related decision-making processes. This was in line with the decentralisation vision set by the South African government in the post-1994 political dispensation, which favoured more involvement of organisations at grassroots level as opposed to the command-and-control vision of pre-1994 governments.

Decentralisation also rests on the subsidiary principle, which is encapsulated in the South African Constitution. Subsidiarity means that those functions that can be more effectively and efficiently carried out by lower levels of government should be delegated to the lowest appropriate level. In this regard, the National Water Act and the Constitution are two structures of rule that were to be constitutive in the establishment of CMAs.

CMAs were required, in terms of the NWA, to cooperate and seek agreement on water-related matters among various stakeholders and interested parties. They also were to have governing boards to ensure that stakeholders are being represented and to prevent control of decision-making by powerful parties with vested interests.  In addition, CMAs were to have a mandate to progressively develop catchment management strategies (CMS) to realize the protection, use, development, conservation, management, and control of water resources in the respective WMAs in which they operate. 

CMAs, in terms of the NWA, were to fulfil important functions. In terms of Section 19 (3) of the NWA, unlike Catchment Management Forums (CMFs) that do not possess decision-making powers, CMAs may direct polluters to commence taking specific measures to inter alia contain or prevent the movement of pollutants and remedy the effects of pollution and to complete them before a given date.  Should a polluter fail to comply or comply inadequately with a directive given the CMA may take the measures it considers necessary to remedy the situation and recover all costs from persons directly or indirectly responsible for the pollution or the potential pollution or if more than one person is liable for the pollution the CMA may apportion the liability.

It is the FSE’s considered opinion that the amalgamation of 9 CMAs into one CMA will frustrate the above-mentioned objectives and principles of the NWA and the Constitution, namely:

  • Transformation based on social and environmental justice 
  • Redress of inequities of racial and gender discrimination 
  • Poverty eradication 
  • Equitable and fair representation in decision making pertaining to water resources 
  • Community participation
  • Participatory management of our water resources

Decentralisation in terms of the management of water resources is necessary since the challenges, conditions and problems of the 9 CMAs are not uniform. The physical, social and economic environments associated with the different catchments vary. To exemplify: The Upper Vaal catchment is impacted by both gold mining and coal mining activities with risks of high salinity, metal contamination and acid mine drainage while other catchments[1] have different nutrient loads, chemical pollution, physical and biological characteristics.

Centralisation of management will furthermore disallows for the concerns and suggestions of stakeholders in their specific regions to be heard and addressed. Stakeholders in different regions have their own issues, perceptions, expectations and interests.

The decision to consolidate the nine catchment management authorities (CMAs) into a single national CMA is, it is our considered opinion, in direct opposition to the abovementioned objectives of the Constitution, the NWA and in particular Chapter 7 of the NWA[2], the National Development Plan 2030[3], the National Water Resource Strategy 2 (NWRS-2)[4] that provide for the decentralisation, equity and public participation in water governance.


Mariette Liefferink.


14 January 2018.

E-Mail: mariette@pea.org.za
011 465 6910
073 231 4893 

  1. Pongola-Umzimkulu catchment, Breede-Gouritz and the Inkomati-Usutu, Limpopo, Olifants, Orange, Mzimvubu-Tsitsikamma and Berg-Olifants catchments.
  2. In terms of Chapter 7 of the NWA requires the Minister to establish CMA – “to involve local communities in the decision making process.”
  3. In terms of the National Development Plan 2030: “Active citizenry and social activism is necessary for democracy and development to flourish, to raise the concerns of the voiceless and marginalised and hold government, business and all leaders in society accountable for their actions”.
  4. In terms of section 9.4.9 of the NWRS-2, “Civil society will be encouraged to play a watchdog role in supporting compliance by water users with water regulation at all levels.”



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