Some, for all, forever: A Case Study of Participation in Water Management in South Africa’s Umgeni River Catchment
South Africa is a water scarce country where freshwater resources are unevenly distributed in relation to the majority of its people. Integrated water resources management, which takes in all competing interests for water use, is crucial. In 1998, South Africa enacted the National Water Act, which created a progressive framework for water management in the country that promoted equitable and sustainable use of water resources. By equitable, the Act set out to repeal the discriminatory water policies of the apartheid era, which restricted access and allocation of water resources to black and Coloured South Africans. The main approach through which this would be achieved is public participation and a decentralized approach where decisions are delegated to the catchment level, through a catchment management agency. Several public forums, intended to initiate participation and identify key stakeholders towards the establishment of an agency, support these bodies. Since 1998, only two of the 19 proposed catchment management agencies have been established. This case study of one catchment management forum along the Umgeni River in Northeastern South Africa, analyzes this trend of institutionalization and evaluates participation in light of promoting National Water Act’s goals of redressing past inequalities. The case study illuminated that there is strong participation in the catchment related to the environmental concerns of the River. However, the degree to which participation in the forum addressed the social concerns within the catchment in relation to water use and allocation was less evident. The study concluded that reimagining how we organize and perceive participation in democracy is key as water management in South Africa moves forward.