South Africa’s water governance hydraulic mission (1912–2008) in a WEF-Nexus context

Johann Tempelhoff


Geologists, physicists and ecologists currently promote the idea of a post-Holocene epoch, the Anthropocene. As a result of constant innovation and modernisation in the fields of engineering, natural science, management studies and environmental studies there has been a growing awareness of the intrinsic interaction between humankind and the environment. Humankind has become part of the environmental dynamics, to the extent that they are literally able to change ecosystems. Nowhere is the impact more evident than in the anthropogenic engagement with the hydrosphere – from the smallest pool of water to the earth’s atmosphere. Comprehensive infrastructure development in water and sanitation, the growing trend to seek additional resources in the form of groundwater, desalinated seawater, and recycled wastewater, as well as special attention being given to capturing and preserving rainwater, bear evidence of a timely response to climate change, population growth and rapid development in many water-stressed regions of the world. The purpose of the book is to provide a historical overview of the manner in which South Africa’s water resources have been governed from a time when the Union of South Africa was formed, in 1910, up to 2008, a time of a growing global awareness of the potential impact that climate change may have on water resources in a key region of southern Africa, notable for increasingly higher levels of aridity and more erratic rainfall patterns. This focus on the history of water affairs in South Africa makes it possible for scholars to comprehend the contemporary transitions made in the country’s water governance system since the establishment in 2014 of the Department of Water and Sanitation. The focus is on the Water–Energy–Food nexus, a strategy which holistically contemplates the governance and use of water from the perspective of the interconnection between water, energy and food as resources. Research has been based on transdisciplinary methods, complemented with the classical interpretive historical narrative methodology. The target audience is specialists in the academy. No part of this book has been plagiarised.


  • Section A: The origins of an irrigation–food hydraulic mission
  • Chapter 1: State consolidation and the conservation of irrigation water (1910–1924)
  • Chapter 2: Natural disasters and poverty in the early years of the irrigation hydraulic mission
  • Chapter 3: Irrigation, pact and fusion: Traces of adaptive governance
  • Section B: The emergence of an industrial–energy hydraulic mission
  • Chapter 4: Institutional water governance in the early era of apartheid (1945–1960)
  • Chapter 5: Political isolation and the industrial–energy hydraulic mission (1960–1969)
  • Chapter 6: Dealing with drought in the aftermath of the ‘1950s syndrome’
  • Chapter 7: Centralised governance, investigation and research in the 1970s
  • Chapter 8: Dealing with pollution and unconventional water security strategies
  • Chapter 9: The peak of the energy–industrial hydraulic mission (1980–1990)
  • Chapter 10: Developments en route to a new South Africa (1989–1994)
  • Chapter 11: Drought disaster and the SCOWSAS political drive towards institutional change in 1994
  • Section C: Onset of a social ecological hydraulic mission
  • Chapter 12: A social ecological perspective on water and its governance (1994–1999)
  • Chapter 13: Departmental developments (1999–2008)
  • Chapter 14: Civil society and the legacy of the free market in the water sector
  • Chapter 15: Conclusion


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