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The racial classification for water rights is an attack on human rights, says Free State Agriculture.
Both the Constitution and the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) regard the right to water as a fundamental and basic human right. The HRC describes the right to water as closely linked to all other basic rights such as the right to life, dignity, food and health.
None of these rights are subject to a person’s race. Yet it appears that the Department of Water and Sanitation is attempting to establish, through new water license regulations, race as a primary prerequisite for access to water.
“The implication of the new regulations will be that a farmer can in certain respects be disqualified for water rights, not on the basis of water availability or management practices, but on the basis of skin colour.” says Kempen Nel, chairman of Free State Agriculture’s (FSA) Natural Resources and Commercial Affairs Committee.
“Irrigation farmers supply 25% of all agricultural products in South Africa. Few if any of these farmers are going to give up their ownership. Is the state going to ban these farmers from producing food?”
Francois Wilken, president of FSA, believes that as with mineral tenders and shareholding, the government wants to use water rights to gain control over the agricultural industry. “Gold, coal and tenders are not essential for survival, but water is!”
Therefore, FSA believes, these regulations represent a new twist: If the government may use racial criteria for irrigation water, it is not impossible for the state to introduce racial criteria later for other forms of water use. “Farmers use water to grow quality food for the country’s people. It appears that the state wants to use water regulation for a race-driven agenda.” Wilken said.
Although the government policy has little impact on real empowerment and cooperation between communities, there are many cases of successful cooperation between old and new/ emerging farmers and their farm workers without government interference. Free State Agriculture will support and develop these initiatives and reject the pointless regulations.