Niell Schoeman

MA student

Project title: Water and its Networks: Water Management and the Meanings of Water in a Semi-Arid Karoo Town


Water is an invaluable resource: it is essential for sustaining life and also constitutes a complex assemblage of social, economic and ecological functions. In a water-scarce country such as South Africa sustainable water management is essential to ensure that water of sufficient quantity and quality is available to support these functions, whilst also enabling the (re)allocation of water to redress the consequences of the apartheid government’s inequitable distribution of the resource. Despite progressive water policies, South African water management institutions have struggled with implementation due to spatial, physical, technological, financial, ecological, resource and governance constraints and challenges. In Prince Albert, a small town on the southern ‘border’ of the Great Karoo, these constraints and challenges have taken on a particular form. The town is located in a semi-arid region that is prone to drought; climate change is expected to increase the prominence and duration of such adverse events. The town’s economy is built on two water-intensive sectors: agriculture and tourism, both of which are linked to a number of ecological goods and services. In order to keep up with demand, two new dams are being built. This study recognizes the limits of approaching water management from a purely managerial/technical paradigm. As such, this study aims to make sense of the restrictions and challenges to water management in Prince Albert, by examining the water-related meanings, values, and practices of water managers and water users and tracing the human and nonhuman elements of the town’s water network.

Keywords: Water networks; water management; Karoo.