A comprehensive program of water institutional reforms has been implemented in South Africa since 1994. These reforms followed some major reform on the political and economic fronts. The institutional changes that occurred in the water sector covered the policy legal, and organizational dimensions of water allocation and management and affected all water sub-sectors including environmental allocations. The reform process has culminated in a new national water policy, a national water act and a national water resources strategy. Substantial organizational changes have also occurred with a focus on management decentralization, user participation and license-based allocation of water. This paper aims to provide an overview of these and other changes, especially from the perspective of irrigation and agriculture. It also attempts to explain the emergence and implementation of the water institutional reforms process in the light of the results reported in recent literature on water institutional reforms. The paper provides evidence for the role of transaction cost and political economy considerations as well as the use of reform design and implementation principles such as institutional sequencing and reform timing.

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