Amanda Gcanga

28 September 2018 | Duration: 01:06:23


Amanda Gcanga is a PhD candidate with the University of Stellenbosch School of Public Leadership and affiliated with the university’s Centre for Complex Systems in Transition. Her research interest is in water governance at catchment and city level, sustainable transitions, and urban systems. She has been examining how water resources can be managed in a sustainable, equitable and efficient manner while facing conditions of increasing water scarcity, competition between users, weak institutions, and environmental degradation. Throughout the 2017-18 water crisis she worked with the Western Cape’s Economic Development Partnership (EDP), helping to find collective solutions to water governance challenges, in Cape Town and in the Breede River Catchment Area. Amanda grew up in a rural part of the Eastern Cape and completed her Masters in International Land and Water Management at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Key points

  • Water governance at catchment level is too removed from the city: there is a gap between water governance at catchment level and water governance at metro level
  • Lack of clarity and transparency in decision-making and methodology for allocation of water resources contributes to tensions between water users; allocation decisions and criteria hidden to normal citizen
  • Weak monitoring system in catchments, causing suspicions of over-abstraction
  • During crisis many municipalities started independently putting together augmentation plans outside of the WCWSS because the platform held by the national DWS was not functional
  • Multiple centres of communication in CoCT; lack of coordination and cooperation
  • Had a sense that people in townships were left out in communications from CoCT
  • Complex and drawn-out process of allocation of water licences in agricultural sector; it can take as long as six years to get a water licence approved by the national DWS
  • Lack of good governance structure means that it takes much longer than it should to bring new water into the WCWSS
  • Cape Town showed that if citizens are willing to reduce water consumption they will; local government should look at other ways of making citizens more aware of our relationship with water
  • There are different types of South Africans when it comes to access to water, with a stark rural / urban divide
  • There was a behavioural shift during the crisis from demanding access to water from government to people making plans to save water and access alternative sources
  • It is vital that we do not continue excluding some segments of society from decision-making around water and treating these decisions as the exclusive domain of a small group of specialists; during the crisis a process was somehow established of inviting broader societal participation and engaging with different sectors in making these decisions; this was a powerful shift



Stellenbosch university doctoral student with the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition; interested in collaborative water governance; involvement with Western Cape Economic Development Partnership as transdisciplinary researcher


Focus on water governance issues at catchment level; she saw the gap between water governance at catchment level and water governance at urban or metro level: “the catchment was too removed from some of the important things that were happening at a city level, that were happening in Cape Town, and certain water governance decisions, discussions, conversations needed to take place but there’s no mandated authority that holds a governance space at a city level … for me that became quite obvious that catchments are too removed from the city … if we have to think about how we govern water and how we make decisions around water for the future we have to think about what role cities and citizens can play in making some of those decisions”; as a result, study focus shifted slightly to include sustainable urban water governance


The Western Cape Water Supply System; how allocation decisions are made; role of national Department of Water and Sanitation; allocation decisions and criteria hidden to normal citizen; catchment area; competing demands between urban and agricultural water users; tensions between water users come partly from “not having a clear methodology or way of decision-making for allocation that citizens understand”; the three principles on which water governance in SA is based: 1) water is an economic good, 2) an environmental good, and 3) every human being has a right of access to clean and safe water; “we don’t have a clear and transparent way of allocating water resources – that is part of the reasons why we’re grappling to say who is the rightful recipient of water in SA”


Catchment area is large and there are various abstraction points along the rivers, with many commercial farmers or water user associations along the rivers; difficult to monitor how much water is abstracted, when and how; weak monitoring system; Cape Town right at the bottom of the catchment; perception that in some parts of the catchment it is the wild west, where certain agricultural water users can abstract as much they can, and nobody is punished for over-abstracting due to the weak monitoring system; one of the biggest challenges is not knowing how much is abstracted because of the size of the catchment; not sure to what extent this is true, but perception persists among urban water users that people at top of the catchment tend to over-abstract; this is also one of the reasons why even without a drought there is always a concern that urban water users might not get enough


How the management system functioned under stress; within WCWSS there is a platform were all the stakeholders gather to discuss some of the issues related to the system: municipalities, irrigation boards, water users associations, DWS gather; this platform is held by national DWS; frustration felt by most of the municipalities; municipalities independently started to put together their own augmentation plans for alternative water sources outside the WCWSS “because that body of governance that was supposed to hold everything together and to somehow help them to come up with a solution as a unit was not functioning or was not performing that function”


At city of CT level, there were multiple centres of communication; “within the metro itself there wasn’t a coordinated unit that was dealing with the planning for the drought; … that speaks to the nature of how our public institutions are set, and how we have all this multiple departments and somehow there’s not a way or a process for them to work across and to work with each other, and so it becomes very difficult when you have a situation like a drought to try and test that or to try and bring about new approaches for different departments or different teams to work together, when by nature of design they’re not meant to work together … they each have their mandates … how do you expect institutions that are constructed like that to somehow be adaptive, to be innovative to try new ways of working together at a very stressful time?”; towards the end of the drought very clear to all the different teams that were involved in dealing with the crisis that somehow they needed to communicate better, share information and work together


Government / citizenry communication; three different communication campaigns by city, provincial and national government; city communication only targeted certain groups: “I got a sense that people in townships were left out”; the thinking was that big water users were targeted, and they tend to be clustered in wealthier residential areas; but township residents should also have been targeted as they tend to leave the townships daily to work in the CBD and the wealthier residential areas; “the whole experience really showed who we are and who do we think we are as Capetonians, and sadly a lack of appreciation as well as inability to make everyone living in Cape Town feel like this is a home; if you can live in Cape Town and there is a major crisis happening but no one is reaching out to you to say, this is what’s happening now, this is how you should prepare, and when Day Zero comes this is how you should manage it, for me that felt – yeah, it did not feel right”


System of water allocation at catchment level; issue is very much contested in SA; current system geared towards correction of past injustices; but complex and drawn-out process of reallocation of licences in agricultural sector; in agricultural sector can take as long as six years to get a water licence approved by national DWS; focus has been on reallocation within agricultural sector, but not much work has been done on question how to prioritise, how to make allocation decisions between competing demands of urban and agricultural sector within a catchment; “maybe that’s a conversation we haven’t had much, to say, how do we bring the two together? and I think for me, that’s where collaborative or integrated water governance comes in; when you can have all these conversations with the right actors, noticing that there’s power dynamics, noticing that there’s historical and racial tension, noticing that there’s political tension, but you’re somehow able to identify common goals … so how do you get over all those challenges and get to a point where everyone is able to try a different way of looking at water allocation”


Plans for dealing with growing urban population and growing water needs; uncertainty as to whose responsibility it is to fund and undertake infrastructure projects for new additional water sources; “so that uncertainty which again could have been solved if we had a good governance structure meant that it took much longer to bring new water into the WCWSS”


City / citizen communication; initially citizens were asked to trust local government: message was that a city that is well run does not run out of water; then messaging changed to say we will have Day Zero; at first information was lacking and this led to panicking; groups of citizens were left out; for example, nobody was communicating to people who run informal or smaller businesses in townships, how they would operate beyond Day Zero; “that sparked tension, frustration, but it also allowed citizens to get together to say when this happens what are we going to do”; shift from top-down to bottom-up did take place with engagement facilitated by WCEDP where local municipality was willing to look at how it can work with different stakeholders to get different messaging across to different groups of people; “I thought probably each big city needs something like that, needs to be flexible, to say, we can’t do it on our own, and if we can’t do it on our own we certainly need our citizens, but what processes or what measures can we put in place to create platforms for hearing what our citizens are saying and incorporating that into our planning and implementation of whatever solutions that we come up with”


Engagement facilitated by the WCEDP in late January 2018 with citizens and civil society organisations that were concerned and wanted to help; a bottom-up initiative, not driven by city government; “it was people getting together because there was a need, because there was a gap in how the City was communicating with citizens”; second engagement, also facilitated by WCEDP, was to come up with a plan how people can help, how they can work with CoCT; out of this came key strategic recommendations that were passed to the City regarding communication and messaging around Day Zero


Visited Arizona in 2017; local government success in changing citizen behaviour in urban context under drought conditions; “I do think there’s a big scope for putting in place certain policies that ensure that we use water differently, and I think Cape Town did show that if citizens are willing to reduce water consumption they will; and I just think that local government can work towards looking at other ways that they can make citizens be more aware of our relationship with water; … this is probably going to be something that’s re-occurring, for so many reasons; one, our population is growing and also we’re not certain how much water we’ll be getting over the next years, so surely that means our relationship with water has to change drastically, and we can’t leave it up to citizens to do it when they feel like doing it”; when a few people saw that it was possible to change how we do things, and things that you think cannot be changed – maybe that’s how you start a culture of changing something and you build from that; we need good and strong intermediary organisations to connect the dots


Roles of intermediary organisations to create unbiased platforms in cities


Reflection on personal experience during the drought; contrast between relationship to water she has in CT to that she has when she is back home in the village in rural Eastern Cape where she grew up; the notion of a right to water; different types of South Africans when it comes to water rights; a challenging experience to be a South African in these different contexts; “it took me back to why I actually decided that water governance is something I want to do, because it did not make sense that in South Africa I could be in different parts of the country and I would not have to worry about water but when I’m in other areas of the country I had to think about waking up at four o’clock in the morning, making sure that I go to the communal tap because the early hours of the morning, that’s the only time that the water might run, I have to think about which truck do we hire in the village to help us carry water from the river, think about so many things, and then I could be in another part of the country where no one thinks about that”


Behavioural shift during crisis from demanding access to water from government to people making plans themselves to save water and access alternative sources; “and I guess that’s what happens when the person who’s responsible for providing you with something is out of the picture or is unable to do so, and then you do it yourself”


Taking water away from small specialised group of people such as engineers and inviting broader society to also be involved in decision-making processes; water supply system by its nature is hidden, complex and dominated by engineers, so it does not empower people to be part of the conversation; when the CoCT started sharing information in late January 2018 it empowered people to feel like they can say something, they understand something and they can link it to what they know; “so I think the shift that’s taking place in the field of water governance is taking water back to the people, and slowly removing it from a small core group of engineers, and not that engineering skills are not important, not that scientific skills are not important – they’re very important, but water is a resource that touches everyone, and if we’re going to continue excluding different corners of community in making these decisions then we’re going to keep on having these problems coming up over and over and over again. So what happened in Cape Town where a process was somehow established of engaging with different sectors in making these decisions, I think that’s very powerful in shifting how we’ve always done things”