UBC Graduate Research

Implementation of the Human Right to Water in Khayelitsha, South Africa: Lessons from a ‘lived experience’ perspective Rodina, Lucy


The recognition of the right to water as a universal human right marks a milestone in the realm of water governance, and yet scholars and policy makers continue to debate the successes and failures of its implementation as the ways this right is negotiated, experienced and struggled for in different contexts still remain key challenges. This paper looks at the on the ground implementation of the human right to water by focusing on lived experiences and material conditions of water access in an impoverished urban area in Cape Town – Site C, Khayelitsha. One of the main findings of this work is that the material conditions of water access and the social and cultural associations they carry accentuate an introduced inequality between shack dwellers and owners of formal housing. I will argue that a focus on materiality within the scholarship on lived experiences with rights can not only add more nuance and better understanding of the quotidian experiences with the right to water, but it can also reveal levels of difference and experiences of relative marginalization produced by the material conditions of water access. I will also argue that the lens of ‘lived experiences of rights’ can help reveal socio-political processes of marginalisation that may remain invisible if we only look at political conditions of implementation (e.g., policy) and at the extent of basic infrastructure coverage (e.g., access to basic water services).

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