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Can Human Rights Transcend the Commercialization of Water in South Africa? Soweto’s Legal Fight for an Equitable Water Policy


  • Jackie Dugard

    (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, SOUTH AFRICA,


The South African Constitution guarantees the right to water, which is reinforced by a national Free Basic Water policy. However, water delivery is a local government function, which, in the absence of a national regulator, is largely operated as a commercial service. Using the lens of the Mazibuko water rights case—the first South African test case on the right to water—this article examines the conflict between a progressive rights-based model, which views water as a social good, and the commercialized model, which treats water as a source of revenue instead of a public service. The article finds in the legal iterations of the Mazibuko applicants the potential for a new, more equitable approach to water services. This is despite the set-back occasioned by the ultimate legal defeat in the Constitutional Court in late-2009. JEL codes: I31, H41, K32, Q25

Suggested Citation

  • Jackie Dugard, 2010. "Can Human Rights Transcend the Commercialization of Water in South Africa? Soweto’s Legal Fight for an Equitable Water Policy," Review of Radical Political Economics, Union for Radical Political Economics, vol. 42(2), pages 175-194, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:reorpe:v:42:y:2010:i:2:p:175-194

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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:juipol:v:48:y:2017:i:c:p:22-31 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Herrera, Veronica & Post, Alison E., 2014. "Can Developing Countries Both Decentralize and Depoliticize Urban Water Services? Evaluating the Legacy of the 1990s Reform Wave," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 621-641.

    More about this item


    right to water; social good; commercialization; water services; South Africa;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law
    • Q25 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Water


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