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Refereed articles

The case of Johannesburg water: What really happened at the pre-paid “Parish pump”

Patrick Bond and Jackie Dugard consider South Africa’s retail water policy and delivery system through the dual lens of the proceedings in Mazibuko & Others v City of Johannesburg & Others , heard in the Johannesburg High Court from 3-5 December 2007, and a recent hydropolitical analysis by the country’s leading water authority, Mike Muller.

Together they raise crucial debates around the first democratic government’s success in delivering water to people on low incomes. Several policy and practical issues are highlighted as deserving special scrutiny: the constitutional implications of pre-paid water meters and shallow sanitation, especially in cases of water emergency and chronic poverty; the origins and sufficiency of Free Basic Water (FBW) as well as the unaffordability for poor households of water beyond the current FBW allocation; and the politics of local and national state-society relations in a context of transnational corporations, multilateral financial institutions and market-oriented state policies. The authors’ bias is towards unveiling power relations that maintain poor people in water poverty, notwithstanding ‘developmental’ rhetoric.

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