Journal Article: Political ecologies of water in South Africa: A literature review, by Magalie Bourblanc

In WIREs Water, GovInn researcher Dr Magalie Bourblanc and David Blanchon have published an article titled “Political ecologies of water in South Africa: A literature review”.


Given the existence of a thriving epistemic community on water sciences, the high politicization of environmental issues in the country as well as the active mobilization of a grassroot movement inspired by environmental justice, South Africa appears to be an ideal case to study the development of a political ecology (PE) approach. Moreover, since the apartheid regime, water issues have long represented a marker of extreme inequality.This paper aims at drawing a panorama of the PE of water in South Africa, its main topics and approaches. In our definition, the PE of water is concerned with human–environment relations, with explicit considerations for power relations. In the first section, we identified texts that, according to this definition, constitute the core of the PE of water in South Africa, going beyond a mere “politics of water.” In the second section and in the discussion, we undertook an in-depth analysis of the main topics addressed by authors, such as environmental flows, “free basic water policy,” prepaid water meters. PE of water is strongly connected to international debates about the link between water and power, but also capable of addressing in a critical way the specificities of the South African waterscape. It stems from this review that critical PE in urban settings in particular dominates the discipline. We could also note that the PE of water in rural areas tends to put a bigger emphasis on the “politics of ecology” whereas urban PE tends to focus more on the “ecology in politics,” although both thrive to examine the human–environment relations in an integrated manner.


You can read the full article here, or through the DOI:

‘Cape Town should serve as a wake up call for managing water in South Africa’, by Magalie Bourblanc in The Conversation

GovInn’s Senior Researcher Magalie Bourblanc published the article ‘Cape Town should serve as a wake up call for managing water in South Africa‘ in The Conversation.

Cape Town’s misfortune can certainly teach the rest of the country lessons. Among these is the fact that a problem can escalate quickly if there isn’t adequate planning. As a semi-arid country and the 30th driest in the world, South Africa is used to operating and managing its sophisticated water supply system under drought conditions. It is supposed to do this by planning for future water needs ahead of time and by swiftly implementing water restrictions to different sectors at the earliest signs of a drought

Read the whole article here:

‘Promoting equity in water access: the limits of fairness of a rural water programme in semi-arid Mozambique’, by Magalie Bourblanc, 23.08.2017

GovInn’s Senior Researcher Magalie Bourblanc published together with Raphaelle Ducrot the article ‘Promoting equity in water access: the limits of fairness of a rural water programme in semi-arid Mozambique‘ in the journal Natural Resources Forum.

Bridging the water infrastructure gap has become a major policy concern. In rural areas of Africa, access to water is as much constrained by territorial coverage as it is by the poor conditions of water points due to the difficulty in mobilizing communities for repairs. This paper examines the equity considerations of a rural water and sanitation programme in a district of Mozambique, and their impacts on the achievement of the programme’s objectives. Our analysis underlines the contradictions in the conceptualization of equity in the design, planning and implementation of the programme. Even an explicitly pro-poor strategy can fall short of delivering equity. Our findings stress the fact that overlooking local perception of equity can have a direct impact on the ability of a community to ensure the maintenance of their water points. They call for a careful definition of equity in the design of water programmes, as well as closer attention to this criterion as a precondition to achieving the long-term objective of the programme.

Read the full article here:

‘Managing or governing water resources? Real-time model and the management of the scarcity on the Crocodile River (South Africa)’, by Magalie Bourblanc, 04.08.2017


GovInn’s Senior Researcher Magalie Bourblanc published together with David Blanchon the article ‘Managing or governing water resources? Real-time model and the management of the scarcity on the Crocodile River (South Africa)‘ in the journal Natures Sciences Sociétés (in French).

In this article we analyse three sociotechnical devices that have been implemented to deal with water scarcity on the Crocodile River (South Africa): a resource re-allocation and redistribution process called “compulsory licensing”, a computerised real-time management model and the operationalisation of environmental flows on a monthly and even daily basis. Our analysis highlights the extent to which such sociotechnical devices, far from managing water resources from a purely technical perspective, actually perform as instruments governing water resources. In that respect, they have been able to neutralise specific regulatory provisions and public policy objectives that were at the heart of South Africa’s transformation agenda. In addition, we demonstrate that water scarcity does not represent a real fatality on the Crocodile River but largely stems from management decisions.

Find the full article here:

‘The EU Water Initiative at 15: origins, processes and assessment’, by Adelle & Benson, 20.06.2017

GovInn’s Senior Researcher Camilla Adelle published together with David Benson the article ‘The EU Water Initiative at 15: origins, processes and assessment‘ in the journal Water International.

This article examines the activities and achievements of the European Union Water Initiative, a transnational, multi-actor partnership established in 2002 by the European Commission to support water governance reforms around the world. Two regional components of the initiative – (a) Africa and (b) Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia – are studied with a focus on their organizational structures, activities, policies and achievements. The analysis provides evidence for improved regional dialogue and cooperation in the water sector, but also points to persistent weaknesses, in particular a lack of resources, ownership and mutual understanding as to the overall aims of the Initiative.



Read the full article here:

‘State Transformation and Policy Networks: The Challenging Implementation of New Water Policy Paradigms in Post-Apartheid South Africa’, by Magalie Bourblanc

GovInn’s Senior Researcher Magalie Bourblanc published the article ‘State transformation and policy networks: The challenging implementation of new water policy paradigms in post-apartheid South Africa‘ in the journal Water Alternatives.

For many years, South Africa had represented a typical example of a hydrocracy. Following the democratic transition in South Africa, however, new policy paradigms emerged, supported by new political elites from the ANC. A reform of the water policy was one of the priorities of the new Government, but with little experience in water management, they largely relied on ‘international best practices’ in the water sector, although some of these international principles did not perfectly fit the South African water sector landscape. In parallel, a reform called ‘transformation’ took place across all public organisations with the aim of allowing public administrations to better reflect the racial components in South African society. As a result, civil engineers lost most of their power within the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation (DWS). However, despite these changes, demand-side management has had difficulties in materializing on the ground. The paper aims at discussing the resilience of supply-side management within the Ministry, despite its new policy orientation. Using a policy network concept, the paper shows that the supply-side approach still prevails today, due to the outsourcing of most DWS tasks to consulting firms with whom DWS engineers have nourished a privileged relationship since the 1980s. The article uses the decision-making process around the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) Phase 2 as an emblematic case study to illustrate such developments. This policy network, which has enjoyed so much influence over DWS policies and daily activities, is now being contested. As a consequence, we argue that the fate of the LHWP Phase 2 is ultimately linked to a competition between this policy network and a political one.

Read the full article here:



The eventswas co-hosted by SIWI, GovInn and the WRC

Rethinking Development Seminar: ‘The power of community: Water security in times of scarcity’

The Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation hosted the Rethinking Development seminar titled ‘The power of community: Water security in times of scarcity’, together with the Stockholm International Water Institute and the Water Research Commission. Mr. Rajendra Singh, The Water Man of India, presented his work on community-led initiatives to conserve water:

Rajendra Singh is a well-known water conservationist. Also known as “Water Man of India”, he won the Stockholm Water Prize in 2015. Previously, he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership in 2001 for his pioneering work in community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management. He has been instrumental in fighting slow bureaucracy and  mining lobbies and has helped villagers take charge of water management in their semi-arid areas through the use of ‘johad’, rainwater storage tanks, check dams and other time-tested as well as path-breaking techniques. He is one of the members of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) under the Indian Ministry of the Environment. In 2008, The Guardian named him as one of the “50 people who could save the planet”.

Please find the pictures taken at this seminar below.


The South African ‘Ecological Reserve’, A Travelling Concept

PolitikonMagalie Bourblanc has written an article for Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies (Volume 42, Issue 2, 2015)

Title: The South African ‘Ecological Reserve’, A Travelling Concept

Abstract: With its ‘ecological reserve’, South African National Water Act of 1998 is perceived as one of the most ambitious Water Acts in the world from an environmental perspective. At first sight, this ‘ecological reserve’ provision could be mistaken for a typical case of North–South policy transfer when actually it was initially engineered by the Department of Water Affairs and its civil engineers in the 1970s–1980s. The paper shows the renewed influence of the scientific community over the definition of the concept during the debate leading to the adoption of the Water Reform Act in the mid-1990s. While investing in the international arena, South African hydro-ecologists managed to reinforce their position in the domestic arena at the same time. Therefore, we demonstrate complex interdependence between domestic and international levels benefiting this travelling concept. Finally, we emphasize that for hydroecologists, the international arena was never a resource already there but an opportunity created.

Read the full article in Politikon

Water shortages about to put load-shedding in the dark – Business Day 05.05.2015

Business DayThis week on Business Day, South Africa’s leading business newspaper, GovInn director Lorenzo Fioramonti discusses the upcoming crisis that South Africa needs to address now: water shortage.

“WHILE load-shedding continues, there is an even more worrying prospect ahead: water-shedding. Like the energy crisis, the abysmal state of water in SA is a combination of at least three factors: resource depletion (and contamination), growing demand and inefficient infrastructure.

Rainfall levels are dropping quickly due to climate change. A recent study published by the World Economic Forum says droughts this century will become more recurrent and severe than in the previous millennium. We feel that already. Over the summer holidays, for instance, eThekwini municipality took the unprecedented decision of asking residents and holiday makers to drastically reduce water consumption to avoid systemic cutbacks, given that the Hazelmere Dam had reached dramatically low levels because of prolonged drought.

Besides climate change, we also have a skewed economy that is out of touch with natural equilibrium: it demands more and more water to fuel economic growth, while wasting and contaminating what we have.”

Read the full article on Business Day