SA’s 12 biggest dams
300ha in the Bushbuckridge area of Mpumalanga, says they are like children to a flame; they don’t know what will happen to them if they are caught without a permit.
“I know we are meant to have the water licences and I make sure I attend the education sessions held by Inkomati Usuthu Catchment Management Agency. We rely mostly on the dam, but we currently don’t have those permits,” he says.
During apartheid, white farmers could get permits easily, he says. Since things have changed, his cooperative is still looking into applying for a permit because there is a lot of red tape.
The institute’s report reads: “Current licensing processes are often costly, very lengthy, bureaucratic and inaccessible to many South Africans. So these small-scale users are obliged to apply for a permit and criminalised without a permit but practically unable to obtain a permit.”
Janse Rabie, the head of natural resources at AgriSA, agrees that red tape “is certainly an obstacle for small farmers who want to elevate to the commercial level”, forcing them to obtain water “under the radar”.
One of the authors of the report, Barbara Schreiner, from the advisory group Pegasys Institute, says one of the implications of having no legal right to water is that small farmers can’t compete if the resource becomes scarce. Furthermore, smallscale farmers can’t go to the banks to get affordable loans because their risk profile is too high and they might be operating illegally, says Schreiner.
Legal authorisation enables farmers to limit risk to their businesses, because it may become difficult to sell or redevelop their property if they are not fully compliant with the National Water Act.
Matlala says the system hampers the competitiveness of farmers because they will not be able to make any significant increase in terms of their yields. “Water in farming is like gold in the mines. I will never buy a farm if there is no water.
“If farmers do not have access to water, tell me how we are going to make a contribution to South African agriculture in terms of our own production and competitiveness. This is farming. It matters not if you are white or green. This is farming.”