Unravelling the water question: A perspective from rural South Africa

Presenter: Dr Michela Marcatelli
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Sociology of Land, Environment and Sustainable Development, Stellenbosch University

Water access in South Africa remains extremely unequal, despite an ongoing redistributive water reform and the inclusion of free basic water for the poor among the social policies of the country. I argue therefore that inequality – rather than the much more discussed issue of scarcity − is at the centre of the national water question. This question has fundamentally to do with the tension between production and social reproduction that underpins the state’s politics of water distribution. As the process of water commodification intensifies, productive activities are regularly allocated water, whereas the most basic, material needs of the poor are left unmet.

I empirically investigate the water question in the Waterberg plateau of Limpopo Province, where crop and cattle ‘white’ farms have largely been converted to game farms and private nature reserves. This allows me to intersect water with rural and agrarian dynamics. In particular, I identify a ‘land-water nexus’ whereby water access is dependent upon access to land and hence property relations. Furthermore, I contend that it is a specific group of ‘surplus people’ that are left without safe and continuous access to water: (ex-)farm workers and their families, often evicted and relocating to the small town of Vaalwater in the middle of the plateau.

Date: Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Time: 13h00-14h00
Venue: PLAAS Boardroom, 2nd Floor Main Hall, University of the Western Cape

For more information, contact: Joy van Dieman
Tel: 021 959 3754 or Email: jvandieman@plaas.org.za