World Rivers Day 2020

The responsibility and legal obligation of mining and other industries to protecting water courses and water sources in South Africa.

South Africa is widely recognised as a water-scarce country, according to the average total actual renewable internal freshwater resources per person per year. South Africa had an estimated 912 cubic metres (m3) of water per person in 2007 and 821 m3 in 2014 (The World bank, 2020) placing South Africa in the same league as small island states or oil states in the Middle East. Water security, as well as supply of available water, depends strictly on the sustainable supply from our water resources. Surface runoff is the main water source in South Africa, with an estimated 49 000 million m3/a (including water that naturally flows into South Africa from Lesotho and eSwatini) (Water Research Commission, 2018). Additionally, rainfall, which feeds our water sources, is seasonal and heavily dependent on local geographies and regions (490 mm per annum compared to the global average of 814mm per annum), leading to an uneven distribution across the country (Water Research Commission, 2018). 8% of South Africa’s Land Area provides 50% of the country’s water source areas (WWF, 2016). This clearly depicts the importance of protecting this vital and finite resource.

Water demand is projected to increase by 32% to 17 700 million m3 by 2030 due to additional development and the projected population growth (WWF, 2016). This projected growth highlights the importance of protecting water sources and the vulnerable communities that survive and thrive around them. These communities tend to be the most affected when water sources are impacted.

Water is governed in South Africa by two acts, the Water Services Act of 1997, and the National Water Act (NWA) of 1998. The latter contains comprehensive provisions for the protection, use, development, conservation, management, and control of South Africa’s water resources, whereas the former provides a legislative tool to govern the provision of a water supply service.

Bearing these facts in mind, it is of crucial importance that all forms of industry are licenced correctly in accordance with the NWA, to ensure that any possible impact can be controlled, managed, minimised and mitigated. The introduction of set laws assists industries with the goal of achieving the required licences (Water Use Licence) and thereby promoting the protection of the country’s water sources. These licences ensure the fair and equitable interaction with this vital resource. Additionally, these licences are auditable, ensure compliance and allow for the evaluation of performance, the awarding of fines, monitoring and the insurance of a holistic approach to water management.

With South Africa being so heavily dependent on its surface water, the protection of all of its water sources is crucial. By ensuring that industries are licenced, managed and monitored, the unfair and unnecessary pollution that might occur can be prevented. This highlight the importance of industries’ legal responsibility and obligation to protect all water sources in South Africa.

The World Bank. (2020). Renewable internal freshwater resources per capita (cubic meters). Available from: (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ER.H2O.INTR.PC?most_recent_value_desc=true&type=points&view=map&year=2013 )

Water Research Commission. (2018). The Mine Water Atlas. Water Research Commission, South Africa.

WWF. (2016). Water: Facts and Future. WWF-SA, Cape Town, South Africa.

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