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Keywords:

  • human rights;
  • citizenship;
  • neoliberalism;
  • law;
  • techno-politics;
  • expertise, water;
  • South Africa

ABSTRACT

Since the end of apartheid, rights-based languages of human dignity have often been central to articulating state obligation and making claims on the state in South Africa. In this article, I explore this moral–legal politics by focusing on a legal case brought against the City of Johannesburg by five Soweto residents on the basis of their constitutionally guaranteed right to water. Examining the epistemologies and evidentiary practices on which it was built, the debates and protests that surrounded it, and the residents’ informal articulations of their discontents, I use the legal case as a lens to explore how the political terrain has been transformed in South Africa in the context of this rise of human rights and the law as languages and modalities of politics. Thus, I explore how citizenship—as a set of techniques, imaginaries, and practices—is refashioned via languages of humanity, and I highlight the ambivalent ethical and political effects of this shift.