Off-Centre: New Perspectives on Public Issues

OFF-CENTRE is a book series focused on the social, political and cultural life of South and southern Africa, offering new perspectives on issues of public interest and concern. Written in a deliberately accessible style, each book presents an engaging and informative read for specialists and lay persons alike, utilising the best of academic scholarship to challenge and correct conventional wisdoms. The series editors are John Higgins, Professor of English Literature at UCT; the writer and academic Kole Omotoso; and Prof Peter Vale, Director of JIAS. The publishers are the UKZN Press.

Volume 1: Water in Southern Africa, by Larry A Swatuk

Backtext: When it comes to water, we are fed a daily diet of doom and gloom, of a looming crisis: wars of the future will be over water; nearly one billion people lack access to clean water; river basins are closed, so there is no more water to be allocated despite ever-growing demand; aquifers are overdrawn to such an extent that a global food crisis is just around the corner; and major cities, such as Bangkok and Mexico, are sinking. And let us not forget about pollution or vector-borne diseases.

The challenges for sustainable water management are massive. Yet, as shown in this book, there are many positives to be drawn from the southern African experience. Despite abiding conditions of economy underdevelopment and social inequality, people rise to the challenge, often out of necessity and through self-help, but sometimes through creative coalitions operating at different scales – from the local to the global – and across issue areas, from trans-boundary governance to urban water supply. This first volume in the Off-Centre series argues that we must learn to see water and the region differently if we are to meet present challenges and better prepare for an uncertain, climate-changing future.

Larry A Swatuk is Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) at the University of Waterloo, Canada; Extraordinary Professor at the Institute for Water Studies at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa; and Research Associate of the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC). Prior to joining the University of Waterloo, he was Associate Professor of Natural Resources Governance at the Okavango Research Institute in Maun, Botswana.

To order a copy, contact Tarryn Hackney at, or Angela Marr Davidson at

For a related article entitled ‘From California to Cape Town: Happy World Environment Day !’ on Larry Swatuk’s blog, click here.

For an interview with Larry Swatuk on the University of Waterloo website, click here.

For an article on the water crisis in Cape Town featuring comments by Larry Swatuk, click here.