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Public Trusteeship, the Reserve and the Water-Energy-Food Nexus:
Implications for Social Justice in South Africa’s Water Law

Law, Environment and Development Journal

Viljoen, G.


This study explores how South Africa’s water law has evolved to ensure fair and
equitable access to water resources after the country’s transition to democracy.
Emphasis is placed on the transformative impact of the National Water Act 36 of
1998 (NWA), which effectively ‘nationalised’ the country’s water resources. The
NWA asserts water as ‘a scarce natural resource that belongs to all people’. To
facilitate the notion of water belonging to all, the NWA introduced ground-breaking
concepts like public trusteeship and the Reserve to the landscape of South African
water law. The paper delves into the legal intricacies of the novel concepts, and
enhances their practical application by integrating them within the Water-Energy-
Food (WEF) Nexus framework. The paper critically reflects on the WEF Nexus framework
and explores the extent to which the WEF framework supports or undermines
gains made by the concepts of public trusteeship and the Reserve. The overarching
aim is to elucidate their combined implications for social justice in the context of
South Africa’s water law.

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