Phiri, the plight of the poor and the perils of climate change: time to rethink environmental and socio-economic rights in South Africa?
Kotze, Louis Jacobus
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South Africa is a water-stressed country where scarce water resources are unequally available to South Africans. It seems inevitable that climate change will in future severely affect the availability of water resources and the ecological and socio-economic aspects of water uses in the country. It is especially the poor, indigent and marginalized sectors of the population that have inadequate access to water and it is these people who would also be most severely affected by the impact of climate change on water resources. While South African constitutional and statutory provisions guarantee everyone access to sufficient water, an environmental right and other laws simultaneously aim to protect water resources. There is accordingly a very real possibility for sustainability conflicts to arise where difficult decisions have to be made with respect to providing people access to sufficient water on the one hand and protecting water resources for the benefit of present and future generations on the other. The latter conflict was recently illustrated in the Constitutional Court judgment of Mazibuko v City of Johannesburg 2009 JDR 1030 (CC). For the first time, South Africa’s highest Court was required to provide content to the constitutionally entrenched right of access to sufficient water. Against a general discussion of the state of water resources in South Africa, the predicted impact of climate change on these resources and the prevailing socio-economic conditions in the country, this article analyses the Court’s decision in Mazibuko and argues that its restrictive interpretation of the right to access to water could be considered ecologically responsible and conducive to achieving inter-generational equity.
- Faculty of Law