The government’s intentions concerning the expropriation of land without compensation have been preoccupying the agricultural sector in SA for the better part of 2018. So important is this issue that it has made nearly everything else affecting farming in the country seem almost trivial by comparison. While the public consultations about land ownership have given many South Africans a far deeper appreciation of the significance of land to the majority of our people, the government’s actions regarding the ownership of water-use entitlements — which is fundamental to the value and actual use of land — seems to have largely escaped people’s attention. Since the commencement of the National Water Act in 1998, the ability to use water in this country has moved from the private to the public law realm. The common law principles governing the private ownership of water ceased to exist in SA on October 1 of that year. At a stroke of the proverbial pen, the government became the trustee of a...

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