n Law, Democracy & Development - Water privatisation and socio-economic rights in South Africa




Several studies of privatisation have been conducted but have rarely done so from a human rights perspective. The implications of human rights, especially socio-economic rights, for privatisation of basic municipal services therefore remain under-researched. This article seeks to explore this question in the South African context. The focus will be on water privatisation. The point of departure is that the provision of water services is directly connected to the enjoyment of the right of access to water, which is expressly recognised by the South African Constitution as a justifiable right. It follows that water services delivery mechanisms and policies must be structured in terms of human rights principles. The article begins by briefly providing the context in which water privatisation in South Africa is occurring. Then the concept of privatisation is defined. It is argued that this term encompasses many forms of private-sector involvement in service delivery over and above full divestiture. This is followed by a discussion of the key constitutional principles relevant to privatisation of basic services such as water. The last part deals with some of the specific human rights concerns as raised by privatisation generally, and as revealed by experience in South Africa.


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