Water Justice in South Africa: Natural Resources Policy at the Intersection of Human Rights, Economics, & Political Power


This paper analyzes water as a social justice issue in South Africa, a nation that has undergone tremendous political and legal transformations over the last fifteen years, but whose population nonetheless continues to suffer from severe inequities in access to freshwater resources. In light of growing water scarcity worldwide, this paper highlights that legal treatment of water resources has significant socioeconomic and distributive justice impacts, even in progressive constitutional democracies that have embraced principles of human rights and international legal norms. The paper explores historical changes in South African water law and evaluates the current political and legal status of water resources within the Constitutional system. Finally, the paper analyzes a potential Constitutional challenge to contemporary national water policy and concludes that, in this nation where socioeconomic conditions are so closely linked to water resources, exerting organized political pressure on elected officials to amend existing water laws may be a more effective strategy than litigation to achieve progressive social change.


Comparative and Foreign Law | Constitutional Law | Economics | Environmental Law | Human Rights Law | International Law | Jurisprudence | Law and Politics | Natural Resources Law | Public Law and Legal Theory | Social Welfare Law | Water Law

Date of this Version

March 2005