||Behind human insecurity and war can often be found economic violence. The regime of neoliberalism has extended deep into our lives, all the way to the water we rely upon for so many aspects of life. Can commodification pressure be resisted by a social project we might term ‘decommodification’? This paper reviews some practical debates regarding what is sometimes considered a rights-based approach to development, focusing on contestations over South Africa’s constitutional right to water. The paper explores challenges encountered in the process of implementing the right to water, including the South African government’s ‘Free Basic Water’ promise, with municipal supply and pricing in Johannesburg and Durban as case studies. Of central importance are international forces, especially the World Bank and the Paris-based water company Suez. Resistance to water injustice has taken interesting forms ranging from direct action protests to autonomist-style reconnections to destruction of meters to a constitutional court challenge aimed at outlawing pre-paid water meters.
‘Many of the wars this century were about oil,
but those of the next century will be over water.’
Ismail Serageldin, Senior Vice-President, World Bank, 1995 interview in Newsweek