The water resources of the Incomati river basin, shared between South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique, are intensively used. Moreover, the basin is situated in a part of Africa that over the last 40 years has experienced a dynamic, sometimes turbulent and volatile, political history. Both ingredients might have been sufficient for the emergence of confrontations over water. Tensions between Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland over Incomati waters existed but never escalated. This case study attempts to explain why cooperation prevailed, by presenting information about the natural characteristics of the basin, its political history, water developments and the negotiations that took place during the period 1967–2002. The paper provides four explanations why tensions did not escalate and cooperation prevailed. It is concluded that the developments in the Incomati basin support the hypothesis that water drives peoples and countries towards cooperation. Increased water use has indeed led to rising cooperation. When the next drought comes and Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland enforce their recently concluded agreement, and voluntarily decrease those water uses deemed less essential, then the hypothesis has to be accepted.

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