The Sustainable Consumption of Freshwater by South Africa’s Agricultural Sector

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University of Amsterdam

MSc International Development Studies

The Sustainable Consumption of Freshwater by South Africa’s Agricultural Sector

An aerial view of circular crop fields watered by center-pivot irrigation systems near the small farming town of Jacobsdal in the western Free State, near the Northern Cape border (South Africa Gateway, n.d.).

Jade de Kort July 2022

Student Number: 13003720 Supervisor: Dr. Nicky R.M. Pouw

Second Reader: Floris Burgers Word Count: 25 058


2 I will grow good seeds, even in uncertainty

– Morgan Harper Nicholls




South Africa (SA) is operating beyond its freshwater ecological ceiling. At 62 percent, the country’s agricultural sector consumes the largest chunk of water resources. Following the end of Apartheid, the South African government ratified comprehensive water policies and

strategies. Yet, freshwater continues to be consumed at an excessive rate. This research aims to investigate and understand these dynamics by asking how can effective water policies in South Africa lead to sustainable consumption of freshwater by the agricultural sector? This requires investigating how water policies have changed over time, how these policies are being implemented and to what extent the agricultural sector is consuming water.” An embedded mixed methods approach was chosen for this research. Relevant policies and Acts were identified through purposive sampling guided by specific criterion. These were analyzed using qualitative descriptive policy analysis and process tracing was employed to create a timeline of relevant events. Data extracted from the AQUASTAT (FAO) database, was used to satisfy the quantitative elements of the research. Key findings showed that despite comprehensive water policies, there is a distinctive lack of implementation aggravated by under investments in the water sector. A distinctive macro-level trade-off occurs between the agricultural sector as an important source of job opportunities and growing need of water resources. Limiting its water use would likely lead to the loss of employment. Because of the country’s complicated history, future policies need to take a more holistic approach to water consumption, with a greater emphasis on steps for practical implementation and follow-up.

Keywords: doughnut economics, freshwater, agriculture, SDGs, sustainable consumption, water governance, policy implementation




One of the best feelings in this world, is being secure in the knowledge that your parents love and support you fully. You can go out into the world, pursuing your dreams, and no matter how many times you stumble, they will be there to urge you on. They will believe in you even when your own self-assurance is scarce. I would like to dedicate this thesis to my parents, who built a solid foundation for me to stand on while I reached for the stars. Thank you.




First and foremost, I would like to thank my supervisor, Dr. Nicky Pouw for her support and patience throughout the research process. Her feedback and invaluable guidance were most welcome and insightful, always adding great value to my thesis. I would also like to extend my thanks to Floris Burgers, as my second reader, for taking the time to read my thesis.

To my friends and family: Thank you for your endless support, advice, and reminders to be kind to myself. You were a bright light and the source of lots of laughter during some challenging moments this year. Thank you for pushing me and encouraging me! I’m eternally grateful.



















2.3.1 SDG6 AND SDG12 17

















3.7 ETHICS 31












5.1.1 1994:PAST TO PRESENT 43




5.4.2 DEMAND 49


























Figure 1: The South African Doughnut Model. Source: (M. Cole, 2015, p. 6)... 15 Figure 2: Conceptual Model ... 23 Figure 3: Embedded Design. Source: (J.W. Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011, p. 68) ... 27 Figure 4: Graph depicting agricultural water withdrawal in South Africa from 1993 to 2022. Source: FAO AQUASTAT Database. ... 36 Figure 5: Map of South Africa, including its neighboring countries (in grey), and the nine provinces. The green sections on the map are zones of irrigation development. The blue lines are the main rivers and tributaries. Source:

(FAO, 2017). ... 37 Figure 6: South Africa’s increasing gap between water demand and supply, estimated to 2035. Source: (Hedden and Cilliers, 2014) ... 38 Figure 7: An illustration of the irrigation sector’s water-use in comparison to other sectors. Source: (DWAF, 2013) 40 Figure 8: Techniques of Irrigation. Source: FAO, 2017. ... 42 Figure 9: Process tracing timeline of the development of South Africa’s water legislation and strategies. The timeline is set on top of a graph demonstrating total water withdrawal and agricultural withdrawal over a 28-year span. (Source: Author, raw data used to create the graph was drawn from the FAO AQUASTAT database) ... 47 Figure 10: Graph displaying the percentage of water stress experienced in the country from 1993 to 2022. (Source:

Author, raw data drawn from the FAO AQUASTAT database) ... 51 Figure 11: Graph depicting the water use efficiency in South Africa measured in USD/M3. It shows both the overall WUE of the country and the WUE of irrigated agriculture in the County. (Source: Author, raw data drawn from the FAO AQUASTAT database)... 53 Figure 12: Water Irrigation In South Africa. (Source: Author, raw data drawn from the FAO AQUASTAT database).

... 56 Figure 13: Area Equipped for Full Control Irrigation in SA, representing the different types of irrigation mechanisms.

(Source: Author, raw data drawn from the FAO AQUASTAT database). ... 57 Figure 14: Updated Conceptual Scheme ... 77 Figure 15: Factors to use for selecting documents. Source: (Morgan, 2022, p. 71) ... 79


Table 1: Future Water Mixes. Source: (DWAF, 2009) Table 2: Policy Implementation Tools (Source: Author)

Table 3: Hierarchy of Government in the Water Governance Sector. Source: (Jonker et al., 2010).




CMA - Catchment Management Agency DWA - Department of Water Affairs

EETE – Effectiveness, Efficiency and Trust and Engagement ELU - Existing Lawful Use

FAO - Food and Agricultural Organisation NDP - National Development Plan

NWA - National Water Act NWP - National Water Policy

NWRS - National Water Resource Strategy WSA - National Water Services Act

SA - South Africa

SDG - Sustainable Development Goals WB – Water Board

WMA – Water Management Area WUA – Water User Association WUE – Water Use Efficiency




South Africa (SA) is operating beyond its freshwater ecological ceiling, according to the South African Doughnut Model (see Figure 1) (M. Cole, 2015) . Most South African’s are living below the social floor, while the country has already crossed its safe environmental boundaries (M. Cole, 2015). And if the current nature of economic growth in the country continues to follow a “business- as-usual” path, it is likely to cause further environmental stress (M. Cole, 2015, p. 48). The environmental limits highlighted in the South African Doughnut must be given due regard by development as the country’s natural resources are under increasing threat, which is happening within the context of global climate change, adding local and global stresses on freshwater supplies (M. Cole, 2015). Consumption and production drive the global economy, but they also wreak devastation on planetary health through the unsustainable use of natural resources (UN, 2020). Sustainable development is classified as both living within ecological limits and meeting the needs of everyone (Lorek & Spangenberg, 2014). Thus, sustainable economies have to be based on sustainable forms of consumption (Lorek & Spangenberg, 2014). In this research, the concept of sustainable consumption is applied to freshwater use in SA, specifically within the agricultural sector. According to Lorek & Spangenberg (2014), sustainable economies have to establish lower but as well as upper limit for resource consumption, this includes reallocation of resources.

The safe and stable access to water resources impacts everything that society does, from its economy to its culture (Werner Fourie, Hildegard Edith Rohr, Juanee Cilliers, 2020). South Africa is particularly vulnerable and exposed to the impacts of climate change because of its socio- economic and environmental context, with the country already being “water-stressed” it faces future “drying trends” and water variability with cycles of drought and sudden excessive rains (Clements et al., 2010). The country receives a minimal annual average rainfall of 497mm, which is far below the world average of 860mm, the rainfall is also unevenly distributed across the country (du Plessis, 2017; WWF-SA, 2016). Not-withstanding emission scenarios that are more conservative than the present international ones, it has been predicted that by mid-century the South African coast will warm around 1 to 2˚C and the interior by around 2 to 3˚C, these temperature increases will change the landscape of the country completely (Clements et al., 2010). Especially with regards to water, parts of the country will be much drier and increased evaporation will ensure an overall decrease in water availability, this will substantially affect


10 human health, agriculture, other water-intensive economic sectors, including the environment in general (Clements et al., 2010; du Plessis, 2017).

Irreplaceable natural resources of national significance (like freshwater), irrespective of where they are located, need to be acknowledged, demarcated and treated as such, in order for them to continue to contribute to the well-being of all citizens (South African Government, 2019). If the country chooses to continue along the economic trajectory that disregards its natural base, and continues to sustain huge damage to its natural resources, then South Africa will be confronted with certain realities: dwindling water security and availability, wetland destruction, severely disrupted water catchments and over-utilized and polluted groundwater sources (South African Government, 2019).

Agricultural is the largest water use sector in South Africa at around +/- 62 percent consumption (du Plessis, 2017; GreenCape, 2019; Hedden & Cilliers, 2014; Steyn, 2020). In SA, the biggest agricultural water uses include the irrigation of crops and water for water-intensive grazing of livestock (Werner Fourie, Hildegard Edith Rohr, Juanee Cilliers, 2020). When comparing with other countries, the agricultural demand for water is generally higher in SA, this is because of the country’s climate and soil composition (Werner Fourie, Hildegard Edith Rohr, Juanee Cilliers, 2020). Unfortunately, demand for water is expected to soar across all sectors (Hedden & Cilliers, 2014). The over-exploitation of water will constrain growth, employment, and general human development. Thus, water-governance and scarcity are becoming more pressing realities for sectors like agriculture, and being able to function within these growing risks requires responsible water management practices (WWF-SA, 2016).

In 1994 South Africa transitioned away from the Apartheid regime to a multiracial democracy (WWF-SA, 2016). Apartheid was an inefficient “racial spoils system” under which the distribution of water-use was racially prejudiced, and access to water and its inherent benefits was available to those who were privileged to have access to land, and political and economic power (DWAF, 1997, p. 10). Following democracy, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa took effect in 1997, it is the foundation for the right to access “sufficient water” and provides for municipal delivery of water (WWF-SA, 2016, p. 64). The Constitution covers two crucial National Legislations: The Water Services Act, Act 108 of 1997 (WSA) and the National Water Act, Act 36 of 1998 (NWA). The WSA is focused on the right of access to basic water and sanitation. The National Water Policy (NWP) was adopted in 1997 and introduced in response to the new direction set by the government and as part of a thorough review of existing water law (DWAF, 2004). The NWA (1998), provides a framework to protect water resources against over-


11 exploitation and to ensure that there is water for social and economic development and water for the future (Kidd, 2017; WWF-SA, 2016). It embodies the NWP’s objectives for water resource management. The management of the country's water is based on the principle that the national government is the public trustee1 of the country's water resources and is therefore entrusted with ensuring that water is “protected, used, developed, conserved, managed and controlled in a sustainable and equitable manner, for the benefit of all persons and in accordance with its constitutional mandate” (Kidd, 2011, p. 6).


The very-real increase of water shortages will cause possible conflicts between economic sectors such as agriculture, mining, energy, municipal as the fight for a share of this ever-declining and scarce resource rises (du Plessis, 2017, p. 119). Thus, the increase of water efficiency in all sectors should be made a critical goal to ensure sustainable water consumption (du Plessis, 2017). Trying to adapt to the changes caused by Climate Change means that industries and households have to reduce their negative impact on the environment (National Planning Commission, 2012). The future water demand of the country shows that there will be a gap of 17 percent between water supply and demand, caused by an increase in food demand (Bonthuys, 2018; du Plessis, 2017). The country’s water system is made more vulnerable to shocks such as droughts by overexploitation, it will also be aggravated by the impact of climate change (Hedden

& Cilliers, 2014). Thus, the water-demand gap needs to be eliminated, this needs to be through policies to reduce demand, increase supply, improve efficiency (Hedden & Cilliers, 2014).

Therefore, it could be posited that it is important that legislation and strategies related to freshwater consumption are inclusive and sustainable, therefore reducing the demand and use within the agricultural sector and, hopefully, leading the consumption of freshwater below its ecological ceiling.


This thesis aims to investigate how can more effective water policies in South Africa lead to the sustainable consumption of freshwater by the agricultural sector. The relevance of the study is environmental as well as social and political. The main concepts cover distribution, demand, and

1 Trustee (or the holding of a trusteeship) is a legal term which, in its broadest sense, is a synonym for anyone in a position of trust (Wikipedia Contributors, 2022).


12 efficiency. Included, is a better understanding of the types of water (surface, ground, or re-use water) that are being utilized for irrigation. As well as the quantity and quality of the water resources. South Africa remains a country impacted by its historical context and over two decades later is still trying to reach more equitable allocation and sustainable consumption of water resources, the findings of this research will serve to better understand the current limitations of the legislation and policies and how these are perpetuating a decrease in water use efficiency (WUE), increased water stress and large amounts of water loss in irrigation agriculture. In the context of the theoretical framework, this research could help better understand why South Africa’s freshwater use has exceeded its environmental ceiling from a governance perspective (as shown in Figure 1).

The main research question is as follows: How can effective water policies in South Africa lead to sustainable consumption of freshwater by the agricultural sector?

To answer this question, a pragmatic epistemological approach has been chosen. The methods used in this research are process tracing, descriptive policy analysis, quantitative data analysis and identifying policy instruments for implementation. These strategies are used for data collection from various sources. Data sources include official government documents, reports from organizations like Oxfam, WWF-SA and the Water Research Commission, as well as raw data collected from the FAO AQUASTAT database. As process tracing was one of the methods selected, this research was set in a timeframe from 1994 to 2022.


The remainder of the thesis is as follows. The theoretical chapter sets the stage, positioning the research aim and sub-questions within the theories of doughnut economics, sustainable development, and water governance (Chapter 2). Chapter 3 lays out the research design, covering the conceptual scheme and operationalization of the main concepts. The conceptualization explores how the main theories interact with water policies and influence the implementation of these policies within the agricultural sector. Chapter 4, introduces the research context, delving into South Africa’s political history and its impact on subsequent legislation and strategies. This also covers irrigation agriculture in the country, the technology that is utilized to supply water to crops. Chapter 5 and 6 are the empirical chapters, they follow the structure set by the research sub-questions. Chapter 5 traces the historical process of legislation and strategies from 1994 to 2022, chartering their evolution. It also includes the country's planning and


13 implementation of the legislation and strategies within the water sector. Chapter 6 investigates the governance system of the water sector as well as implementation gaps and policy issues.

Finally, Chapter 7 answers the main research question, reflects on the theoretical and methodological stance of the research and suggests policy recommendations and proposes a future research agenda.





This research builds on three theoretical frameworks: doughnut economics (planetary boundaries); the sustainable development goals (SDG 6 and SDG 12); and water governance.

These frameworks assist in building a theoretical foundation on which the research aims to investigate how water policies can be more effective and thus, lead to the more sustainable consumption of freshwater in and by South Africa’s agricultural sector, all while operating below the ecological ceiling. The following sections explore these theories and concepts in more depth, beginning with doughnut economics (Section 2.2) and planetary boundaries (Section 2.2.1), sustainable development (Section 2.3) and SDG 6 and 12 (Section 2.3.1), followed by water governance (Section 2.4) and rounding up with the conclusion (Section 2.5).


This section of the chapter unpacks the theoretical frame of doughnut economics and how this theory informs South African water policies, related to freshwater use, and thus encourages the country to bring operation back within the freshwater ecological ceiling of the doughnut. The

“doughnut” is a visual framework for sustainable development, created by Kate Raworth (2012) (see Figure 1 below). It has a social foundation (or floor), below which there exists unacceptable human deprivation, and an environmental ceiling, above which exists unacceptable environmental degradation (M. Cole, 2015; Raworth, 2017b). It combines both concepts of planetary boundaries and social boundaries (Raworth, 2012).



The human belief that we can extract resources boundlessly, use them inefficiently, and discard them thoughtlessly, drawing from the planet faster than it can regenerate, is no longer viable (Figueres & Rivett-Carnac, 2020). There is a need to discard this exploitative ethos and move towards an economy, that operates in harmony with nature, repurposing used resources, minimizing waste and replenishing depleted resources (Figueres & Rivett-Carnac, 2020).

Therefore, using South Africa’s own doughnut model, we look at how this framework and planetary boundary concept fosters more effective and efficient water policies which are aimed at meeting sustainable consumption and bringing the country back below its freshwater ecological ceiling.

Why is the Doughnut important? The doughnut supports policy making in SA by supplying strategic information on environmental and social problems, identifying key factors that cause pressure, monitoring the effects of policy responses and raising public awareness for action (M.



16 Cole, 2015). It is a new perspective on sustainable development, the framework melds together a person’s claim to basic needs and an economy that needs to operate within environmental limits (Raworth, 2012). This creates a “closed system” that is bound by both human rights and environmental sustainability, resulting in a space where inclusive and sustainable economic development occurs (Raworth, 2012, p. 5).

2.2.1 P




Doughnut economics builds on the foundation of the framework of planetary boundaries. These boundaries define the “safe operating space” for humanity with respect to the earth system and are linked with the planet’s “biophysical subsystems or processes” (Rockström, 2009, p. 474).

There are nine planetary boundaries that have been identified: climate change, ocean acidification, stratospheric ozone depletion, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, global freshwater use, change in land use, biodiversity loss, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading (Rockström, 2009). These nine boundaries are critical global environment indicators calculated against their “safe environmental boundaries” and this underscores where extreme stress is happening at the global scale (or as the focus of this research, at the country scale) (M. J. Cole, Bailey, & New, 2017).

According to Cole (2015), the dimensions of environmental stress for SA within the frame of its doughnut (see Figure 1), indicate that the annual consumption of available freshwater resources is at 18,895 Mm3, where as the “safe national boundary” is 14,196Mm3 meaning that the country is operating at 134%, this takes SA past its freshwater ecological ceiling by 34% (M. Cole, 2015).

Thus, the country’s freshwater boundary has been transgressed (2015, p. 6), along with the knowledge of SA’s continuous water scarcity (which will continue to worsen as climate change consequences become unavoidable), its pertinent to build this research around this particular planetary boundary. Rockstrom (2009) notes that as long as the thresholds are not crossed, society can pursue long-term social and economic development with relative freedom. Thus, there is a strong argument for using the planetary boundary concept at national levels where policy action and natural resource management most frequently occur (M. J. Cole et al., 2017).

Within the landscape of doughnut economics and the freshwater planetary boundary, several key concepts were drawn from the theory for the use of this research. Firstly, the main sources of water being utilized, which are surface water, groundwater, and re-use water. Specifically, understanding at what quantity each type of water resource is being consumed and how are they


17 being utilized? This allows a deeper view of which water source experiences the most stress and how this impacts the water sector overall. The second key concept is the availability of water, broken down into variables of quantity and quality. By investigating the availability of water resources, we can better grasp the pressure put on the water sector by agricultural use and how close the country is to exceeding the capacity of availability. Including the agricultural sectors contribution to the decline in quality of water resources via pollution, which also directly impacts the availability of water. The last key concept is the ecological ceiling, this concept gives us the goal to which sustainable consumption of water resources should be aiming for. By selecting this theory and these key concepts, the research addresses the knowledge gap found in the documents analyzed. The legislation and strategies do not address the fact that South Africa has a freshwater ecological ceiling that has been surpassed. This research aims to better understand how this has occurred, the agricultural sectors contribution to it and how further development of irrigation agriculture will affect this.


The concept of sustainable development emerged in an effort to address environmental problems caused by economic growth (Banerjee, 1999). According to Banerjee (1999), its broad aim is to delineate a process of economic growth without environmental degradation. One can imagine sustainable development as a three-legged stool with each leg being represented in an equal and balanced fashion, respectively, as economic development, social equity and environmental protection (Drexhage & Murphy, 2010; UN, 2015).

2.3.1 SDG 6


SDG 12

The sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda both represent an aspiring agenda which is global in nature and universally applicable, while still respecting national policies and priorities (Chasek, Wagner, Leone, Lebada, & Risse, 2016). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was launched in 2015, the Agenda has many important goals, but for the purpose of this research, the focus is on “ensuring the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources” (UN, 2015, 2020). The agenda also resolves to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, all while taking into consideration differing levels of national development and capacities (UN, 2015). There are 17 SDGs with their 169 targets and 231 indicators, all together they display an


18 impressive idea of sustainable development, combining the economic, social and environmental dimensions (Saunders & Luukkanen, 2021). The SDGs are planning and monitoring tools for countries, at both the national and local levels, therefore, allowing countries to forge their own paths to sustainable development, which is inclusive and in sync with the environment (Saunders

& Luukkanen, 2021). This can be achieved through public policies, planning, budget, and monitoring and evaluation instruments (Saunders & Luukkanen, 2021).

Sustainable consumption is one of the main concepts of this research, this section zooms into SDG12: ensuring sustainable consumption and production patters as well as SDG 6: ensuring availability and sustainable management of water for all. The global economy is driven by consumption and production but the unsustainable use of natural resources causes devastation on planetary health (UN, 2020). Freshwater is essential for the health and well-being of people, plants, animals and aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems (UN Environment, 2019). Water is linked to many of the SDGs, including SDG12 (UN Environment, 2019). According to the Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) (2019, p. 239), satellite data reveals that freshwater bodies are quickly disappearing in many irrigated agriculture areas due to climate change and over abstraction. Agriculture is responsible for an average 70 percent of global water withdrawals (UN Environment, 2019). Sustainable freshwater supplies from surface and groundwater sources are crucial for human and ecosystem needs, and additionally for achieving the SDGs (UN Environment, 2019). Economic and environmental resilience is reinforced when the risk of water stress is reduced by water-use efficiency (UN, 2020).

Within the context of South Africa, there are two SDG 6 indicators that are specifically relevant to this research: firstly, indicator 6.4.1, which is the change in water-use efficiency over time and secondly, indicator 6.4.2. the level of water stress, freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources (Statistics South Africa, 2019). Indicator 6.4.1. provides information on the relationship of water use and actual water withdrawal (Statistics South Africa, 2019). The country's water resources are scarce and unevenly distributed spatially and temporally, thus, there is a need to improve on the water-use efficiency levels for all the water- use sectors (Statistics South Africa, 2019). Indicator 6.4.2 measures the water stress, this is the freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available freshwater resources (Statistics South Africa, 2019). Water stress is classified as when the demand for water surpasses the available amount during a period or when water quality restricts its use (Statistics South Africa, 2019). According to The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Country Report 2019 (2019), the level of water


19 stress in 2018 was calculated at 41.38%, this is worryingly high for a semi-arid country that is highly dependent of freshwater resources.

As sustainable development is an all-encompassing term, this research focuses on sustainable consumption of water resources in South Africa. Two dimensions were chosen to portray this, water demand and water use efficiency. Water demand includes how much water is being supplied to the agricultural sector and how much it is demanding. As water demand is on the rise, especially by the agricultural sector, this research wants to understand the nuances behind the demand and how they impact efficiency (see Chapter 5). Thus, by increasing water use efficiency over time means using less water to produce the same amount of output, ultimately dissociating economic growth from water use across the main water using sectors (FAO, 2022). Both demand and efficiency impact the water stress of the country, which is when demands for water are approaching or will exceed the available supply. These three elements are directly related to the sustainable consumption of South Africa’s water resources and thus are relevant to the main aim of the research. By including findings on demand and efficiency, the research can unpack how legislation and strategies impact these key concepts.


Water governance refers to the political, social and economic and administrative systems that are in place and which influence water’s use and management (CSIR, n.d.). Water is a highly sensitive issue, it is complex to understand and demands thorough governance in terms of effective and equitable use and distribution (CSIR, n.d.). Thus, governing water includes the formulation, establishment and implementation of water policies, legislation and institutions, and clarification of the roles and responsibilities of the government, civil society, and the private sector in relation to water resources and services (CSIR, n.d.).

In water, the term governance has mainly been used to normatively prescribe or help design a particular institutional, organizational, and financial arrangements for making water decisions and regulating water (Zwarteveen et al., 2017). It is not an end in itself, it is a means to formulate and implement water policies that are considered appropriate and fair by those to whom they are intended and by society in general (Akhmouch & Correia, 2016). Many questions arise when studying how the capricious and ever-changing source of water is distributed among various agricultural, industrial, commercial, domestic, and ecological users (Zwarteveen et al., 2017).

These questions of water distribution also include those about laws and norms that justify patterns


20 of access to water or water services (Zwarteveen et al., 2017). These are also questions that are included in this research, specifically focused on South African water policies and Acts.

Jonker et al (2010) make an important differentiation between governance and management.

Governance includes the forms and processes by and through which one arrives at settled social rules, while management includes the forms and processes by and through which one applies settles social rules (Jonker et al., 2010). The concepts of governance and management are not interchangeable but should be considered complementary (Jonker et al., 2010).

2.4.1 E


, E


& T




According to Akhmouch and Correia (2016), there are three main dimensions of water governance: effectiveness, efficiency, and trust and engagement. This research draws on these dimensions in the conceptual model. They act as a guide for how this research conceptualizes water governance. They also inform the dimensions, variables and indicators found in the operationalization table (see Appendix 1). Effectiveness relates to the contribution of governance to define clear sustainable water policy goals and targets at all levels of government, to implement those policy goals, and to meet expected targets (Akhmouch & Correia, 2016). Effective and inclusive water governance contributes to the design and implementation of such policies, in shared responsibility across levels of government and in cooperation with relevant stakeholders to meet current and future water challenges (Akhmouch & Correia, 2016). Efficiency relates to the contribution of governance to maximize the benefits of sustainable water management and welfare at the least cost to society (Akhmouch & Correia, 2016). Lastly, trust and engagement which infers that governance will build public confidence and ensure the inclusion of stakeholders via “democratic legitimacy” and fairness for the overall society (Akhmouch & Correia, 2016, p.



Jimenez et al (2020) propose a practical definition of water governance, breaking it into “what”

(the functions), “how” (the attributes), and “what for” (the outcomes). The core function this research is focused on is “policy and strategy”, this function comprises the set of norms, principles and priorities to achieve desired outcomes, including the set of rules, procedures, programs and/or mechanism needed to achieve such ends (Jiménez et al., 2020). It provides the framework for links and interdependencies between water and other sectors (i.e. agriculture) (Jiménez et al.,


21 2020). With concern to this research, the elements linked to policy and strategy of water resources are as follows: water resources-related policies, legislations and strategies, key sectoral and regional strategies beyond the water sector affecting the use of water resources, such as agriculture (Jiménez et al., 2020). Policy and strategy fall under dimension of effectiveness.

The attribute this research is focused on is multilevel governance, which implies that there are decision-making centers or governing authorities at different levels or layers (ibid). South Africa’s government is a decentralized, multilevel structure. Through decentralization the government devolves some of its decision-making powers and management responsibilities to lower levels of government, private sector or community society organisations (Jonker et al., 2010). Elaborating further, in the South African context, at a macro level is the national government, meso level covers the provincial government, micro level is the district municipality and lastly, at the nano level sits local municipalities. This attribute of multi-level governance falls under the concept of efficiency. This research is focused on the macro and meso level because the national government is the guardian of the nation’s water resources and thus has the power to determine its use (DWAF, 1997).

This research will integrate Hall’s (1993) theory of the “orders of policy change” within water governance. This is because if a component of this theoretical framework is multilevel governance and policy and strategy, then it is crucial to understand why and how these changes have occurred. According to Hall (1993), there are three types of policy change, first and second order changes can be interpreted as “normal policymaking”, this means a process that adjusts policy without challenging the hegemonic policy paradigm (Hall, 1993, p. 279). Third order change represents a complete paradigm shift, radical changes occur in the policy discourse (Hall, 1993).

First and second order changes do not necessarily lead to third order changes. In Chapter’s 5 and 6, Hall’s theory is applied to the analysis process to gain a richer understanding of the policy changes that occurred post-apartheid.

Lastly, are the desired outcomes of the governance process. In their article, Jimenez et al (2020), classify four “orders” of outcomes in a governance program. This research focuses on the Second of outcomes. The second order of outcomes occur during implementation and refer to the change in behavior among user groups and institutions in performing the governance functions (Jiménez et al., 2020). They include changes in how user groups relate to the resource (e.g., sustainable water consumption). The framework has a two-fold aim of providing a harmonized set of governance functions and attributes, and to show how the functions and attributes interrelate to


22 achieve specific outcomes (Jiménez et al., 2020). This falls under the concept of trust and engagement.

The key concepts of this research are effectiveness, efficiency and trust and engagement in water governance, taken from the OECD principles on water governance. Using the operational framework laid out by Jimenez et al (2020), the key dimensions and variables drawn from the authors’ work include policy and strategy (understanding the what). In its practical application this will be analyzing South Africa’s water legislation and strategies. Alongside this concept, this research will include Hall’s theory of policy change (1993), this will allow the opportunity to better understand what factors cause policy change. This links with the method of process tracing, which tracks significant policy changes over a specific timeframe. The second key dimension is multilevel governance, this is important to understanding how water governance occurs on different levels. In the research this will be applied to the macro (national government) and meso level (provincial government). By choosing this concept, one can unpack the interconnectedness between macro and micro level challenges. Each level carries different water resource responsibilities that directly impact distribution, demand, and efficiency. The third key dimension is the outcomes of water governance. Specifically, the second order outcome was selected because it is directly concerned with the implementation process. More specifically, concerned with the changes in how users relate to the water resource, e.g. responsible water consumption (Jiménez et al., 2020). And evidence that implementation is taking place e.g. financing is made available to support implementation and monitoring and evaluation takes place (Jiménez et al., 2020). This is because the performance of core governance functions (like policy and strategy) can only be understood when linked to how these functions are conducted (in this case on a multilevel governance setting), leading to the desired outcomes (second order) of the governance process (Jiménez et al., 2020).


The conceptual model is a representation of how effective water policies can guide the agricultural sector to consuming and utilizing freshwater sustainably thus keeping below its ecological ceiling (M. Cole, 2015; Raworth, 2017a). Drawn from the three main theoretical frameworks (Doughnut Economics, Sustainable Development Goals, and Water Governance) are the key concepts of this research: the freshwater planetary boundary, sustainable


23 consumption, and effective and efficient governance. These inform the flow of the model from left to right. Plotted on the model are the sub-questions to show how the conceptual scheme of the research has answered them. The blue arrow at the top of the scheme indicates how the doughnut model incorporates planetary boundaries, which includes the freshwater ecological ceiling. The main stakeholders are placed in the scheme, showing their influence on policies and strategies and how they too are guided by multilevel governance. Second order outcomes are also represented by the dark purple arrow box around implementation. This is placed between water policies and strategies and the agricultural sector to display how implementation is integral to the process of policy and strategy. The agricultural sector is placed within the freshwater ecological ceiling because the theoretical framework posits that more effective legislation and strategies will place the sector here.

These policies (hypothetically) then regulate the consumption of freshwater by the agricultural sector, allowing this sector to operate within SA’s freshwater ecological ceiling. This should then allow for a higher water-use efficiency and a decrease in overall water stress for the country. As two of the research sub-questions (see Section 3.3) focus on implementation, this element has FIGURE 2:CONCEPTUAL MODEL


24 been included in the scheme, situated between water policies and the agricultural sector. This is because implementation plays an important role in how and if policies are realized by the

agricultural sector and follows second order water governance changes. This will have an impact on its consumption of freshwater


This chapter discussed the three main theories and concepts guiding this research. The doughnut visually represents the limits set out by the planetary boundaries; these boundaries tangibly define the safe operating space that all countries should be striving to exist within. Taking from the doughnut economics framework for the conceptual model, is the concept of planetary boundaries.

The doughnut melds together inclusive and sustainable economic development and within that circle, is freshwater use. South Africa’s freshwater boundary is a quantifiable amount (14,196Mm3) and this gives a starting point to work from. This concept allows the research to place the water resource use of the agricultural sector within a boundary and makes it measurable. This measurability is explored in empirical Chapter 5 through both qualitative analysis and supportive quantitative data. In cooperation with the concept of a freshwater boundary, the key concept of sustainable consumption was taken from the broader scope of sustainable development. Sustainable consumption brings to the conceptual model indicators like water demand, water use efficiency and water stress. These indicators have been used in the descriptive policy analysis. They allow a richer understanding the dynamics of the water sector.

Water legislation and strategies need to be working towards bringing consumption below this point and thus, into a safe space.

The third pillar of this research (water governance) encapsulates the key concepts of efficiency and effectiveness of water policies in South Africa, these inform the conceptual model. These key concepts are especially relevant to reviewing the country's water legislation. It has enabled this research to investigate the regulation and implementation of policies and strategies (see Chapter 6). This lends the research a pragmatic perspective and direction when viewing how governance and management are conducted and displayed through official documents. Sustainable consumption and the safe operating space of freshwater are the ecological foundation of the conceptual model, while effectiveness and efficiency explore water legislation and strategies. The conceptual scheme is a visual representation of how these concepts have been interpreted and


25 conceptualized together with the aim of answering the main research question. The following chapter will cover the research design and methodology of the research.





Every study requires a research design, which is a framework for the collection and analysis of the data that is utilized to answer the research questions (Bryman & Bell, 2018, p. 27). This section outlines this research’s methodological parameters and related limitations. Firstly, the epistemology and positionality of the study is explained (Section 3.2). Then the conceptual scheme is unpacked (Section 3.3), following operationalization table is briefly discussed (see Appendix 1). The methodological section (Section 3.4) includes the following elements:

epistemological and ontological approach, units of analysis, sampling and data collection (, data analysis, reflections and ethics, limitations of the research and then, lastly, the conclusion of the chapter (Section 3.5).


This research has a predominantly pragmatist approach, when seen as an alternative paradigm, it avoids the antagonistic issues of truth and reality, and accepts, “philosophically”, that there are singular and multiple realities that are open to empirical inquiry and positions itself toward solving practical problems in the “real world” (Feilzer, 2010). Pragmatism can be employed as a guide for top-down deductive research (Feilzer, 2010). Within the view of pragmatism, knowledge claims stem from actions, situations, and consequences (John W Creswell, 2003, p. 13). The key concepts of this research, which have been drawn from the theoretical framework, are practical in nature by investigating the what and how of South Africa’s water sector and legislation. The theoretical framework (see Chapter 2) allows for a more tangible interpretation (for example the freshwater ecological ceiling can be measured, it is not only a theoretical phenomenon), aligning with a pragmatist approach.

Creswell (2003) believes that pragmatism provides a basis for individual researchers to “freely”

choose the methods, techniques and procedures of research that best meet their needs and purposes. Pragmatist researcher’s look to the “what” and “how” to research, keeping in mind where they want to go with it (John W Creswell, 2003, p. 14). Pragmatism is most relevant to this


27 research because it acknowledges that there are singular and multiple realities. This means that the various data sources of this study convey their own realities regarding the status of the country's water resources. The aim of the research is to adopt a pragmatic approach while investigating these realities, to better understand the “what” and “how” of water consumption in legislation in the real world. This is why empirical Chapter 6 investigates policy issues and implementation gaps, because these bridge the gap between what is policy and what is real.

Within this ontological and epistemological positioning, the research design is an embedded mixed methods approach that utilizes a deductive tactic. A mixed methods approach allows the researcher to base “knowledge claims” on pragmatic grounds (John W Creswell, 2003, p. 21).

According to Creswell & Clark (2011, p. 67), the embedded mixed methods design allows one data set (in this case the quantitative data) to provide a supportive, secondary role in a study based primarily on the other data set (the qualitative data of this study) (see Figure 3 below).

Figure 3: Embedded Design. Source: (J.W. Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011, p. 68)

This mixed methods design was chosen because a single set of data was not sufficient, different sub-questions needed to be answered, and thus diverse types of data were needed, this was achieved by collecting policy documents and reports (qualitative) as well as raw data from the AQUASTAT database (quantitative). Qualitative data is utilized to answer sub-questions one to five, with the quantitative data filling a supportive capacity from questions one to three. Taking the scope of this paper in consideration, the following sections outline the methods.


There are five sub-questions that accompany the main research question:

1) How have water policies changed over time?

a) Is there more of a focus on effectiveness and sustainability?


28 2) To what extent is the sustainable consumption of freshwater incorporated into water


3) To what extent is the agricultural sector consuming water?

b) This includes what types of water and the quantity and quality.

4) How are these policies and strategies being implemented?

c) What are the tools being used for implementation?

5) How could these policies and strategies be more effectively implemented?

d) What are the policy issues and implementation gaps?


The operationalization table (see Appendix 1) is a visual representation of the variables and dimensions used to create the indicators of this research and how they were operationalized during analysis. The dimensions and variables were drawn from the main concepts of water governance, sustainable development, and doughnut economics. The key concepts are efficiency and effectiveness, sustainable consumption, and the freshwater planetary boundary. Taken from the key concepts are the dimensions of the research, they narrow the scope and allow the research to focus on the areas best suited to answering the main research question and sub- questions. In the empirical chapters (Chapter 5 and 6) there is an overlap of some indicators, for example, water quantity informs water allocation and groundwater usage impacts surface water availability. This reinforces the holistic nature of resource consumption; nothing exists within a vacuum.


3.5.1 U




& R


The phenomenon being investigated in this study is the country's water resource use across the agricultural sector, especially irrigation agricultural. Official South African government policies, Acts and strategies were chosen based on predetermined criteria, which were informed by the theoretical frameworks and the research questions. Monitoring and evaluation reports both from the government and independent organisations were also selected. The scope of this research included the use and distribution of the country’s freshwater resources within the agricultural sector. The agricultural sector was chosen because statistically it consumes the most freshwater


29 in the country (du Plessis, 2017; GreenCape, 2019; Hedden & Cilliers, 2014; Steyn, 2020).

Freshwater was chosen as the focus for this research because of the context of South Africa as a water-scarce country that is currently in the midst of a water crisis. Another contributing factor, is that freshwater, according to the SA doughnut model (M. Cole, 2015), has surpassed its ecological ceiling. To satisfy the quantitative component of the study, raw water data was extracted from the AQUASTAT (Food & Agriculture Organization of the UN) database.

3.5.2 S






This research is centered around South Africa’s water policies and its freshwater, thus relevant policies and Acts were identified through purposive sampling guided by specific criterion (Bryman, 2012). The documents that were chosen encompassed the main concepts (and indicators) of this research (see the operationalization table in appendix 1), allowing the researcher the greatest chance to answer the research questions. The documents chosen also span a period of time allowing for process tracing to be conducted. The goal of purposive sampling is to “sample”

cases/participants (or specifically for this research, governmental policies and Acts) in a strategic way, thus those sampled are relevant to the research questions (Bryman, 2012; Morgan, 2022).

J. Scott’s (1950) four criteria for the quality assessment of documents can also be used to select suitable documents, as was done for this study (see Section 7.3 and Figure 15).

The state (government) is the source of a large amount of information for social researchers (Bryman, 2012). It generates a large amount of statistical information as well a great deal of textual material of potential interest, such as Acts of Parliament and official reports (Bryman, 2012). The number of documents selected depends on the research questions, usually when a point of

“redundancy” or saturation is reached then the sample is large enough (Morgan, 2022, p. 72).

Five main policy documents were chosen (see appendix 2), as well as other complementary documents, to reach saturation. In this case the researcher knew she was making progress when she had identified a variety of reputable sources that allowed her to conduct analysis aligning with the themes (Morgan, 2022, p. 72). Therefore, more documents were redundant. Raw data pertaining to water consumption was pulled from the AQUASTAT database, specifically relating to the agricultural sector. This data fulfills the quantitative aspect of the research design.

Triangulation assists in determining if the findings of the study are consistent and to develop a deeper understanding of the topic being explored (Morgan, 2022, p. 65). The qualitative aspect of this study is based on pre-existing data, therefore using it with other types of data (raw data


30 from AQUASTAT) allows for triangulation, making this study more trustworthy (Morgan, 2022, p.


3.5.3 D




Documents were analyzed using two types of qualitative analysis, this was determined by the sub-questions (see section 1.3). Process tracing was used to analyse documents for sub-question 1. It is a qualitative analysis method, its main purpose is to attempt to establish whether, and how, a potential cause influenced a specific change or set of changes (INTRAC, 2017). Process tracing was used to create a timeline (see section 5.2), depicting if and how water polices have changed since the end of Apartheid in 1994 to present. The timeline can indicate any changes worth highlighting. Process tracing can show whether change occurred and how and why it occurred as well (INTRAC, 2017). It does not require any particular tools or methodologies, a normal range of data collection methods can be applied (INTRAC, 2017). Alongside process tracing, Peter Hall’s (1993) “orders of policy change” was applied to gain a deeper understanding of how and why policy’s may have changed. Specifically, it investigates how past experiences can lead to policy change, which is particularly interesting for this research when taking into account South Africa’s history of Apartheid (see section 4).

Secondly, descriptive policy analysis was used to examine documents. Policy analysis can be accomplished before or after the policy has been implemented (Patton, Sawicki, & Clark, 2015).

Descriptive policy analysis refers to either the evaluation of a new policy as its implemented or the historical analysis of past policies (Patton et al., 2015). This can be further broken down into either retrospective and evaluative, retrospective refers to the description and interpretation of past policies and evaluative analysis looks at if the purposes of the policy were met (Patton et al., 2015). The aim was to use descriptive policy analysis (both retrospective and evaluative) to answer sub-questions 2 and 3. Policy tools/instruments for implementation were identified in order to answer sub-question 4, these tools were then collated in a table to better understand the implementation processes.

Coding is utilized for the data that comes from the policy analysis. Qualitative analysis revolves around working thoroughly with rich data (Bazeley & Jackson, 2013). Coding is one of many methods of working with and building knowledge about data (Bazeley & Jackson, 2013).

Essentially a code is a way of identifying themes in a text (Bazeley & Jackson, 2013). In qualitative research, coding is a way of “tagging” text with codes, indexing it, so that it may be retrieved later


31 (Bazeley & Jackson, 2013). By using coding to organize data, it aids in analytical thinking, the data is seen anew via the coding category rather than the source, which “recontextualizes” the data, allowing the researcher to move from document analysis to theorizing (Bazeley & Jackson, 2013).

The raw water data drawn from the AQUASTAT database was entered into Excel, graphs and charts were then populated to express the quantitative measures of total freshwater withdrawal, agricultural water withdrawal etc. These graphs and charts were used in a supportive capacity to the qualitative analyses.


Specific determining factors were chosen to ensure research quality. Construct validity was utilized to establish the validity of this research. Which involves seeing whether the concepts used in the research relate to each other in a way that is consistent with what their theories would predict (Bryman & Bell, 2018, p. 83). Reviewing my research, the concepts that have been chosen exhibit overlapping elements and are related. My main theoretical frameworks naturally overlap (doughnut economics, sustainable consumption, and water governance) as they all occur under the broader umbrella of natural resource conservation. The conceptual scheme (see Section 3.3) is a visual representation of construct validity. See Section 7.3 for a further dissection of the methodological reflection.


Document analysis has been an underutilized approach to qualitative research, and it can also lessen some of the ethical considerations associated with other types of research (Morgan, 2022).

As I only relied on documents and raw data for this research, this will be the focus of the reflection.

With document analysis, secondary data exists without any actions by the researcher, but the researcher is active in discovering, collecting and making decisions about which materials will be analyzed and which will be discarded (Morgan, 2022). This research is centered around South Africa’s water policies and its agricultural sector, thus relevant policies and Acts were identified through purposive sampling guided by specific criterion (Bryman, 2012). The goal of purposive sampling is to “sample” cases/participants (or specifically for this research, governmental policies and Acts and reports) in a strategic way, thus those sampled are relevant to the research questions (Bryman, 2012; Morgan, 2022). Referring to the section on quality criteria (see section


32 3.4.4) in this thesis, J. Scott’s (1990) four criteria (authenticity, credibility, representativeness and meaning for assessing the quality of documents) can also be used for the selection of documents (Morgan, 2022). Bearing in mind these ethical considerations, I used these four criteria, as well as my thematic criteria, to select documents that were relevant to my research question and sub- questions with as little bias as possible. I will address these criteria further on in this section.

Public records are available for anyone to examine thus there are little ethical concerns to accessing and collecting this information. When assessing the ethical implications, as the researcher I need to ask myself whether my chosen documents were produced with the intention of being public or private. As my documents are intended for public consumption, and the author of the documents is the South African Government, there is no need to protect the privacy or confidentiality of the author.

Credibility relates to the extent to which the source is free from errors and distortions (Morgan, 2022). Questions of credibility raise issues of bias in the institution. Conducting research with documents as the sole source raises questions about “biased selectivity” (Morgan, 2022). The documents I have selected for my research, by utilizing purposive sampling, could reflect biases on behalf of the author. To account for this ethical concern, I have also selected documents published by independent organisations as well as journal articles and I have utilized raw data statistics to create a clear picture of freshwater consumption in South Africa (this can also be linked to triangulation, see section 3.4.2). I have also taken the effort to verify that I have collected my documents from reliable sources this is an additional way to ensure credibility. For example, any journal articles I used came from legitimate Journals and would have been peer reviewed.

The raw data source I have used for the quantitative element of my methodology is drawn from AQUASTAT which is a subsidiary of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). It is reasonable to assume that the FAO can be considered a credible source of data and statistics and that strict guidelines would have been used to collect data. LINKING ETHICS TO POSITIONALITY:

As part of my methodology, I used process tracing and created a timeline of important policy changes and historical changes in South Africa. It would be willfully ignorant if I did not include the Apartheid era in my research (see section 4). This period in South Africa’s history would have had a major impact on all policy changes. There are ethical implications to writing about the Apartheid, thus even though I will not be collecting data directly from participants, it is still important to acknowledge the written aspect that will be in my thesis. As a South African, it will always be a sensitive and heartsore topic. This could have an unforeseen and unpredictable




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