The City of Cape Town experienced one of its worst droughts in 2015–2018, resulting in the Cape Water Crisis. This crisis revealed existing and new inequalities in how the city distributed water. I conducted fieldwork in the township of Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa, against the backdrop of the crisis, to investigate how the city’s response to the drought worsened water inequality in informal settlements. Geography and poor water governance negatively affected water service delivery within the city, and townships as contested spaces faced the greatest inequality. I analyzed the city’s water management policy and strategies, conducted in-depth interviews with service providers who dealt directly with water distribution in Khayelitsha, and interviewed residents in different settlements of the township. As water inequality is relative, the study required a comparative basis to make the argument of unequal distribution using John Rawls’ theory of distributive justice. Literature at the time, in general, looked at inequality across different and distant settlements, with comparisons between the township as a monolith and the central business district and suburbs. I focused on inequality by studying two settlements within the same township. Although water inequality was caused by spatial inequality, it is upheld by a host of sociopolitical factors. The South African Constitution may enshrine water as a basic human right, but experiences from Khayelitsha reveal a cost-recovery model for water service delivery that prioritizes paying customers and disregards the poor.

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