South Africa is an interesting case study on the right to water. It is an upper-middle income country with a history and current reality of extreme racialised inequality, including the water services sphere. It is water scarce, and during 2018, Cape Town was expected to be the first major metropolitan city in the world to run out of water. South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, which incorporated socio-economic rights including the right to water as explicitly justiciable long before the international right to water was recognised. However, despite clear water-security and water-equity fault lines on the one hand and conducive legal frameworks on the other hand, there has been relatively little water rights contestation in post-apartheid South Africa. It is this paradox and, in particular, how it played out in the clear case of water insecurity in Cape Town’s “Day Zero” crisis that are the subjects of examination in this article. Aiming to make an original contribution to the scholarship on the “Day Zero” crisis by exploring it from the perspective of interlocutors and those affected by it, this article also hopes to contribute towards a better understanding of the nature and application of water rights more broadly.
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