Emerging farmers must utilise the new online water licence system,writes Themba Khumalo
The rollout of e-WULAAS, the Water Use licence Application and Administration System, has opened the doors to economic opportunities particularly for emerging farmers who have had little access to water for agricultural use in the past. The new system allows commercial entities to remove the bureaucratic barriers and apply for water use licence online and be approved in less than a year.
In the past, because of the bureaucratic processes through the old system of physically submitting application documents, it took between two to three years before an applicant was given the operating licence for his entrepreneurship.
In terms of the National Water Act, every commercial entity in South Africa is required to obtain a water use licence from the department of water and sanitation as a measure of controlling the rampant use of the precious scarce resource.
However, black farmers – through the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) – have been particularly vocal about the complex bureaucratic process they were subjected to before they were issued with the requisite water use licence. Invariably, this has had a negative impact and has hampered their ability to be productive in the agricultural sector.
During an oversight visit to Mopani in Limpopo last month, members of the parliamentary portfolio committee on Water and Sanitation were particularly angry to find that emerging farmers had little or no access to water to grow their crops.
The Mopani region is a rich citrus area, with an abundance of paw paws and bananas, but the industry is almost exclusively, dominated by white commercial farmers who are making a killing through domestic and international exports.
Black farmers, on the other hand, have become spectators in the spectacle as they are struggling to obtain water use licences from government.
It is for this reason that the portfolio committee took exception to the perception that when it comes to economic empowerment, emerging farmers seem to have been pushed to the periphery in Mopani and, indeed, throughout the country.
Members of the committee also visited an area where a white farmer was said to be deliberately diverting water from a river to deprive black farmers access to water on the downstream.
Against this background, e-WULAAS will go a long way give black farmers a gilt-edged opportunity to flex their muscle in agriculture as it removes the major stumbling block prosperous entrepreneurship.
The delay in the issue of licences stood in their way prosperity.
The main purpose of the online system is to help applicants (prospective farmers) to achieve authorisation in 300 days or less, while tracking the process, recording communication and maintain an accurate document repository throughout the authorisation process.
The new measure will reduce the period it used to take to issue water use licences across the spectrum.
The National Water Act fundamentally reforms the law relating to water resources, recognising that water is a scarce and unevenly distributed national asset that belongs to the people of South Africa and provides the department of water and sanitation with the mandate to protect, use, develop, conserve, manage and control the country’s water resources in an integrated manner.
The objective of e-WULAAS is two-fold; to provide an online portal for existing and new water users to submit applications for water use authorisation, and to provide an internal web-based interface for the authorisation staff to manage, co-ordinate and track the authorisation processes of submitted water use applications.
The South African agriculture sector is one of the mainstays of the country’s economy and offers several opportunities for large commercial and emerging farmers in areas, such as capital investment, training, and supply of equipment and services.
Farming contributes greatly to the country’s gross domestic .
Through Afasa, emerging farmers see their involvement in the sector not only as an economic activity, but rather a way of life in the broader sense.
For many years the government tried to change the face of farming so as to accommodate farmers from all walks of life and ultimately to try and get them to participate in commercial farming.
Yet, without water use licences, this is mission impossible as every development hinges on the availability of water.
The South African population is expected to reach 82 million by 2035. Food production or imports must double to feed the expanding population, and production needs to increase using the same or fewer natural resources.
Naturally, there is a huge demand for food crops from the consumer side.
Before 1994, established commercial farmers had the advantage of being favoured by the Land Act of 1913 and the Water Act of 1956, which deprived black access to land and water.
As part of its transformation policy, the democratic government has reversed most of the draconian laws, but most beneficiaries of the previous regime are resisting and therefore benefiting from the apartheid benevolence.
The owner of the fast land, however, has a common law right to land formed by accretion adjacent to the fast land and has the right of access to the navigable part of the river in front of his fast land, with the right to make a landing, wharf or pier in front of his fast land, subject, however, to general rules and regulations imposed by the public authorities necessary to protect the rights of the public.
When the statutory law grants the right to a riparian owner to extend his lot or to improve out to the limits prescribed by the public authorities, the riparian owner receives a “franchise-a vested right, peculiar in its nature but a quasi property of which the lot owner cannot not be lawfully deprived without his consent”.
When the owner makes improvements in front of his lot, complete title then vests in him in the improvements provided it is in front of his lot and does not appropriate the riparian rights of his neighbours.
It is precisely this discrepancy that the National Water Act of 1998 is seeking to redress.
The imbalances of the past continue to confront the previously disadvantaged.
Because of the benefits that the previous beneficiaries enjoyed, e-WULAAS is most likely to have little impact on white farmers more than it will benefit their black counterparts.
It is therefore incumbent upon the emerging farmers, who are almost exclusively black, to take the opportunity of utilising the new online system to apply and to accelerate the attainment of water use licences.
Khumalo is a content developer in the department of water and sanitation