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ABSTRACT

Redress of historical injustice in access to land provided a mobilizing force for the overthrow of the apartheid government in South Africa. Inequality of access to water resources marks South Africa's history even more profoundly than inequality of access to land. Yet in South Africa, post-apartheid legislative reform relating to land and water has followed largely separate, if parallel, paths. This article traces the development and current status of water reforms in the Inkomati Water Management Area, where water use is dominated by established commercial agriculture and forestry, by important environmental interests, including the Kruger National Park, and by demands for improved access to water from a black population of around 1.5 million living in former Bantustan areas. It indicates that in practice water and land reform are interdependent, but, although both have become more closely linked within local political and economic arenas, they remain largely disconnected and disabled by unresolved tensions within their separate policy processes. The article argues that the commoditized nature of land and water use within the established patterns of commercial agriculture sets constraints on what redistributive land and water reform can deliver to those historically dispossessed. In particular, increasing recourse to ‘strategic partnerships’ between African community landowners and commercial agribusiness as a means of maintaining the productivity of commercial farmland poses questions about the control and beneficial use of new forms of communal property.