UMngeni River is a river in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. UMngeni river rises in the KwaZulu Natal midlands, and its mouth is at Durban which is the third largest city in the country. The river passes three dams including Albert Falls which consists of pastoral landscape where stock farming and forestry are practiced, Nagle Dam passing through informal settlements with thin vegetation and the catchment passes through the Inanda Dam to the Indian Ocean (Dikole, 2014).

UMngeni river is the primary source of water for more than 3.5 million people and generates almost 65 percent of the provincial gross domestic product (State of the River Report UMngeni, 2002). Thus, the UMngeni region is one of major economic, cultural and ecological importance and engagement with river co-management work is necessary if all these needs and activities are to be sustainable and more equitably shared, with all perspectives and values of the river equally respected (State of the River Report UMngeni, 2002). Currently, this is not the case, as water demand in the uMngeni catchment has outstripped the river’s ability to supply, and it is inequitably shared with local Black communities most disenfranchised as a result of the contamination of the streams and waterways with raw sewage and pollution due largely to unsustainable human settlements, aging infrastructure and inadequate proactive and sustainable development planning, failing local government institutions and inadequate support for civic-based engagement and monitoring activities

PhD researcher: Paulose Mvulane

Freshwater sources are central to the sustenance of life, economies, and ecologies  (Anderson et al., 2019). Despite this recognition of the importance of water, water shortages and degrading of freshwater sources is still a common occurrence globally (Sultana, 2018).   In South Africa, there are water shortages and some parts of the country rely on rivers and other freshwater sources for water. With climate change, water shortages are expected to get worse because of recurrent extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and heatwaves. Community involvement is needed to face such situations because they are implementers and may hold significant knowledge, different perspectives, and the ability to challenge perspectives that have not contributed to solving their issues. It is of utmost importance that communities are able to carry forward the work of protecting their catchments even when the experts have left or projects have ended. Thus, catchments as Complex Adaptive Social Ecological Systems (CASES) involve relationality, in particular, they require learning-focused approaches for effective and responsive management (Cockburn et al., 2019).

Thus, there is a need to investigate and understand how riverine communities, especially those who are directly dependent on the river for their day-to-day water needs can be included in processes that are aimed at protecting and encouraging sustainable catchment use. There are a number of projects in South Africa that are aimed at the rehabilitation and management of catchments and other freshwater resources. This research project seeks to understand how to include those who are considered to be marginalized, namely the poor communities that suffer from river or catchment degradation into meaningful river co-governance and management.