The paper focuses on the evolution of water management regimes, water scarcity, and the transition to a new water legislation in South Africa that occurred with the passing of the 1998 National Water Act. It takes issue with the analysis offered by Turton & Meissner in their 2002 article ‘The hydrosocial contract and its manifestation in society: A South African case study’ (in Hydropolitics and The Developing World (2002), African Water Research Unit, Pretoria, pp. 37–60) who argue that the relations between resource users and the State may be conceived of as a ‘hydrosocial contract’, and that the nature of this relationship has changed from constituting a Hobbesian form of social contract where the State is all-powerful (the Leviathan), to a more Lockean form, where the emphasis is on individuals' willingness to cede some of their autonomy in order to be governed. The main argument against Turton & Meissner's analysis is that it ignores policy and legislative aspects, which, if included, would substantially alter their conclusion.

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