Patrick Bond: Commoning, Rights and Praxis: The Case of South Africa

Two critical commoning debates – between Elinor Ostrom and David Harvey over scale, and between between socialists oriented to state power and autonomists oriented to horizontal politics – have reflections in contemporary South African commons struggles. These struggles have three dimensions: 1) the natural commons especially relating to water, air and land; 2) the produced commons associated with ideas (the intellectual property rights to AIDS medicines) and state services (especially water); and 3) the peopled commons in which crossing of our local (ethnically-demarcated) and regional borders has confronted both official and popular xenophobia. The praxis associated with progressive activists reaching the limits of liberal politics – seen especially in the world’s highest-profile dispute over defining the ‘right to water’ – and transcending these, may be helpful to understanding prospects for commoning in South Africa and beyond. It is ‘through rights to the commons’ that we can explore strategic insights provided us by activists intent on liberating water, climate, AIDS treatment and economic justice.

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