The 'Trickle Down' of Integrated Water Resources Management: a case study of local-level realities in the Inkomati Water Management Area, South Africa

The 'Trickle Down' of Integrated Water Resources Management: a case study of local-level realities in the Inkomati Water Management Area, South Africa

The  historical  legacy  in  South  Africa  of  apartheid  and  the  resulting  discriminatory  policies  and  power imbalances  are  critical  to  understanding  how  water  is  managed  and  allocated,  and how  people  participate  in designated  water  governance  structures.  The  progressive  post-apartheid  National  Water  Act  (NWA)  is  the principal  legal  instrument  related  to  water  governance  which  has  broadly  embraced  the  principles  of  Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). This translation of IWRM into the South African context and, in particular, the integration of institutions related to land and water have faced many challenges due to the political nature of water and land reforms, and the tendency of governmental departments to work in silos. The paper explores the dynamics surrounding the implementation of IWRM in the Inkomati Water Management Area, and the degree of integration between the  parallel  land  and  water  reform  processes.  It  also  looks  at  what  these reforms mean  to black farmers’ access to water for their sugar cane crops at  the  regional  (basin)  and  local  levels.  The  empirical material  highlights  the  discrepancies  between  a  progressive  IWRM-influenced  policy  on  paper  and  the  actual realities  on  the  ground. The  paper  argues  that  the  decentralisation  and  integration  aspects  of  IWRM  in  South Africa  have  somewhat  failed  to  take  off  in  the  country  and  what 'integrated' actually  entails  is  unclear. Furthermore,  efforts  to  implement  the  NWA  and  IWRM  in  South  Africa  have  been  fraught  with  challenges  in practice, because the progressive policy did not fully recognise the complex historical context, and the underlying inequalities in knowledge, power and resource access.