Date of Award

Spring 2014

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Shafqat Hussain

Second Advisor

Beth Notar


Not every South African has access to the same amount of water, quality of water, or infrastructure for water. A core question for me during this research was if and how attitudes towards water and daily water consumption vary along with different levels of water accessibility. Considering both the emerging global water scarcity crisis and the legacy of Apartheid, evident by the institutional inequalities in South Africa, I unravel the current system of water allocation. First, I discuss the definition of water scarcity, the politics surrounding water allocation, and South Africa’s Constitutional right to water as well as the Free Basic Water Policy of 2001, which illustrates how the South African government understands its responsibility to provide water to all SA citizens. Second, I analyze the role of water as both a commodity and a human necessity, and discuss the economic perspective, humanitarian perspective, and an alternative perspective about water allocation. Lastly, I present my research in Mowbray and Lwandle, which are two areas in Cape Town that differ substantially in terms of family income, race and access to water. Based on a total of 37 interviews, participant observation, and considering the local discourse, I argue that a person’s level of water accessibility influences how he/she understands the value of water and his/her willingness to save water. I found that people who currently consume the least amount of water reported that they are willing to save the most, which goes against a core economic principle of the law of diminishing marginal utility. In addition, I discuss the boundaries of ethnography and the efficacy of my research methods.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology.