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South Africa, water struggles

Lena Partzsch and Inga T. Winkler


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Since the late 1990s there has been a worldwide upsurge of social movements and struggles against neoliberal globalization and the power of large multinational corporations. A major area of struggle has been the commercialization of common goods and services, such as drinking water and electricity. South Africa continues to suffer from extreme social inequalities, which are reflected in access to common goods and services such as water, in large part because of the legacy of apartheid. When the African National Congress (ANC) won the first democratic elections in 1994, it was estimated that up to 20 million people, mostly Africans, did not have access to safe water. While the right to water is guaranteed in the post-apartheid South African constitution, a significant number of citizens lack access to water services. The historically white suburbs continue to account for perhaps 50 percent of domestic water use, although they are home to a small minority of the population. The ANC government has relied heavily on commercialization and privatization to expand access to services, including water and sanitation. This has had a number of controversial and adverse consequences, provoked strong criticism and protest by sections of civil society, and played a key role in the rise of the post-apartheid social movements. “Commercialization” refers to the process of introducing market mechanisms ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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