REPORT NO: 1062/1/03

April 2003


This document constitutes the final report to the Water Research Commission on the project entitled "Protocol for developing, implementing and maintaining the biophysical component of catchment management plans as developed by catchment management agencies". The project proposed a technical solution to develop 'protocols' to guide the management of biophysical resources in a catchment area.

The study was based in the Sabie-Sand catchment, which we chose as a study site for this project for a number of reasons. These included the fact that much research had been done there, providing a solid base for understanding of the ecosystem, and that there was an existing and active catchment working group (the Sabie River Working Group) representing all major players, that could act as a "surrogate client" for our work.

Our original approach called for the development of protocols in a three-phase approach, outlined below.

A change in the project objective (and subsequent direction) came about in phase 2 of the project. At this time, when we engaged (as planned) a group of multi-sectoral "stakeholders" with the aim of designing a process for describing a "desired state". During this phase, it became clear that participants in the process are ill-prepared to engage one another. Therefore, a technical focus was less important than finding a way to help stakeholders to interact with government and government with civil society in a way that promotes cooperative decision-making as it relates to the resource. In view of this realization, we started to reconsider the research priorities, and to realign the project focus and objectives with our new understanding and with what we believed the water law intends to achieve.

The aim of the project was modified at a project team workshop held in early 2001. The title of the project be changed to read as follows:

"Developing principles and processes for supporting stakeholder participation in integrated river management".

This report has three parts. In Part 1, we address the question of how best to support stakeholder participation in integrated river management and it provides details on the constitutional and legal context underpinning stakeholder participation. It discusses the principles that arise from this context, as well as the processes that would be needed to achieve sustainable and equitable outcomes through integrated management. The lessons that we have learnt from this project are also outlined here.

Part 2 provides an overview of the detailed findings of the project. These findings are based on a range of papers and reports that were produced as the project progressed.

Part 3 addresses the issue of capacity-building. Capacity building is a vitally important aspect of research investment. As our project sought ways of empowering people to participate in the management of water resources, we paid particular attention to this issue. We have documented both the theoretical understanding of capacity-building, and we have provided a list of people in whom capacity has been built, and a list of products (outputs from capacity building) that have been produced by the project.

Scientists, especially those engaged in natural resource management in support of sustainable development, should strive to adapt (where appropriate) their approaches to implementation projects. In the first place, it seems that by encouraging a structured "bottom- up" approach, the benefits of stakeholder wisdom and empowerment will be brought to the fore. This will require a mind-shift, from one of "telling", or "teaching", to one of sharing knowledge, influencing wise decision-making, and facilitating the identification of problems as well as solutions. This seems to be the most important lesson arising from this study, and it should go some way towards directing the way forward.

A second, and far-reaching, issue that should guide us in the way forward lies in the way in which we address capacity building. To date, there has been a realization that South Africa's transition to democracy will require transformation and capacity building, but there has been little appreciation, both by administrators and practitioners, of how this should be done or measured. This project has highlighted that capacity-building is a long-term process, that it cannot and will not be hurried, and that it will require a long-term, and structured approach if it is to be effective and successful. Given the importance of this issue, the development of a structured and long-term approach should become prominent on the agenda of scientists, research managers, and implementation agencies.

Lastly, we have seen in this project that it is indeed possible for people to modify their own perceptions and behaviour, willingly, in support of a cooperative process that is likely to deliver equity, sustainability and efficiency in the water resource management process. The willingness of participants in this process to learn (and change) together, combined with the fact that water issues are likely to organize people around the debate for years to come, suggest that these interactions can form a platform to promote the principles, values and ethics that underpin democratic behaviour.

The realization of true democracy in South Africa is a goal shared by almost all of the inhabitants of the country. The realization of true democracy in South Africa is a goal shared by almost all of the inhabitants of the country. Much progress has been made in this respect, but much remains to be done. This project has shown that people are still struggling with the realities of how to participate meaningfully in the management of shared resources. Rivers are one of the most important of our shared resources. The constitutional and legislative instruments that are in place provide a framework within which to develop people's abilities to play meaningful roles in this respect. We suggest that the political and environmental rewards that would arise from the empowerment of people to participate in resource management processes are immense. What is needed now is to develop working examples of how this can be achieved. This can be done by building on the significant advances in understanding that have been made in this project. South Africa's fledgling democracy stands to benefit immensely if we can demonstrate effective empowerment through examples from the river management process.