The South African Water, Energy and Food Forum 2013: From Nebulous to Nexus

Operationalising The Water, Energy & Food Security Response

Download SAWEF 2013 Brochure

Following on from the inaugural SA Water & Energy Forum, held in 2011 and the subsequent SA Water, Energy & Food Forum held in April 2012, it is clear that the concept of an all-inclusive, solution-seeking platform designed to cut across the silos pervasive in the key nexus areas of water, energy and agriculture has been positively received by all role-players.

Important linkages have been made to major government actors in the nexus space, in particular to the Department of Water Affairs, the National Planning Commission, The National Treasury, Land Bank and Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority; as well as leading Energy SOE Eskom; leading private sector actors in finance and mining in particular, and several important academic and industry constituencies, in including Agri-SA, PLAAS and UASA.

The Forum has established connections to similar initiatives taking place globally including the Bonn Group in Germany; the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Water Security; UN Secretary General Advisory Board on Water; and the Suez Advisory Committee on Water.

In short the Forum has become the flag-bearer for the mission critical nexus dialogue in South Africa.

With the problem statement being clearly defined, from both a global and local perspective, the time has arrived to move the nexus dialogue into the realms of everyday South African life and the solutions to its challenges.

SA Water. Energy & Food Forum Vision

South Africa is a country in rapid transition. One of the most notable moments of that transition to democracy was CODESA, during which parties locked in protracted conflict came together and developed a plan of action for which there was broad-based support. We call that the “spirit of CODESA”, which we believe was characterized by the following:

  • The creation of a space in which complex and potentially divisive issues could be discussed in an open and frank manner with a view to seeking viable solutions.
  • The avoidance of blame-seeking actions in order to attract parties into the space needed for the resolution of seemingly intractable problems.
  • Credible leadership representing defined constituencies, but with the capacity to reach across deep divides.
  • The mobilization of intellectual and social capital in quantities not seen before, or since.

This is what SAWEF is about. It is a forum designed to raise issues of national strategic significance, to be debated and engaged with by credible individuals, each with the deep desire to find permanent and sincere solutions.  It is about generating hope and direction, in a place characterized by frustration and the absence of broad-based agreement on a future vision for a fledgling democracy still uncertain of its multicultural identity.

The recent past has seen South Africa again go through a period of political instability, in places approaching the same type of pattern and intensity that we last saw in the 1990’s as a build-up to CODESA. This instability has been driven by many factors, but we see the most notable as being:

  • Absence of job creation across the board.
  • Disconnect between mass perceptions of the fruits of democracy versus the actual benefits of democracy.
  • Failure in service delivery across a wide front.
  • Failure of the mining sector to reform in a way that we are calling the “Social Licence to Mine”.
  • Loss of investor confidence, most notably in the mining sector,  that has seen some major companies lose a significant portion of the market capitalization (Anglo), with other companies actually being downgraded to junk status (Goldfields).
  • Growing public hostility to ESKOM and the future energy platform for a young democracy.
  • Growing public hostility to “solutions” perceived to have been imposed by the state without “adequate consultation” (e-Tolling).
  • Growing scepticism to government responses to high profile issues such as Acid Mine Drainage.

It is our view within SAWEF that these are all indicators why we need to have a robust forum in which parties can come together, not in hostility, but rather in a spirit of constructive engagement, in which blame-seeking is actively discouraged. We also believe that there are many good news events happening out there that fail to make it into the public space. These include things such as:

  • Major progress that has been made in the AMD management by government (decant was last reported in the WesternBasin on 9 Oct 2012, and a viable solution is being refined that offers many benefits to many stakeholders, including angry taxpayers).
  • Significant progress has been made in terms of the National Water Resource Strategy.
  • There are indications that some mining companies are willing to do things differently, with scattered talk of an “Economic CODESA” and a “New Social Carter for Mining”.
  •  The reform of the CMA architecture is cause to give us hope that much of the conflict between mining and agriculture in water-constrained areas will now be institutionalized in a revitalized CMA institutional apparatus.
  • Progress in the energy sector encourages us to believe that we are starting to transition, at least in terms of our thinking, to a new future that is more sustainable and less contested.

This is what SAWEF is about. We believe that while some are talking about a new “Economic CODESA”, SAWEF has actually been laying the foundation for such a thing to occur. We believe that sound government is necessary and should be embraced in partnership with the private sector and civil society sector in order to deepen our democracy and develop the green shoots needed to create confidence that a different path towards development is in our collective best interest. WE are proud of the fact that we are the first national-level entity to introduce the concept of the Water/Energy/Food Nexus, conceptualized at the World Economic Forum in Davos, to the level of public discourse.

Download SAWEF 2013 Brochure