The aim of this paper is to highlight the changes that have taken place in terms of groundwater resource development and management in South Africa in the 20 years since the political transformation of the country in 1994. Groundwater, the previously neglected resource, received a strategic role in the monumental programme to bring basic water infrastructure coverage to more than 95% of the population during this period. The post-1994 water policy reforms have also had a very positive impact on groundwater; its legal status changed from “private water” to a “significant resource” and it became an integral part of integrated water resource management in terms of the National Water Act, 1998. A systematic assessment of changes, undertaken within a framework of groundwater governance, indicates that significant advances have been made in the groundwater field at the enabling environment/policy level as well as at the strategic/national level in terms of institutional and management instrument development. Thus groundwater has become an integral part of water resource planning, with appropriate groundwater data and information systems to back this up. Groundwater management at the national level can still be significantly improved by way of appropriate regulations that address the unique requirements of groundwater resources in terms of protection, information management and human resources. The present challenge lies at the local level, where the management of thousands of groundwater schemes was transferred from national government and from community management structures to newly established municipal administrations. Urgent attention will need to be given to building the institutional capacity for groundwater resource management at this local level. It will require the coordinated effort of the entire groundwater sector, led by the national Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and founded in ongoing research and development through the Water Research Commission (WRC).

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