Rights talk and rights practice: Challenges for southern Africa
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Rights are increasingly enshrined in legislative frameworks in southern Africa and rights-based approaches are increasingly seen as a core component of development. But how can rights be made real for poor people in rural areas? Research in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe sheds light on the practice of rights claiming on the ground, in the context of "legal pluralism" and complex, politicised institutional settings. Rather than an emphasis on rights in abstract legal or constitutional terms, the research has explored instead the practices of rights claiming and the complex politics of actors and institutions that affect this. In the southern African context, rights are formulated and claimed in a very unlevel playing field and are highly contested. In practice, rights are realised through complex negotiations about access to resources at a local level. Broader rights frameworks enshrined in the constitution, in legislation and in policy can - despite their progressive nature - be irrelevant, unless the local institutional context is conducive to encouraging effective rights claiming by poor people. A rights-based approach for sustainable livelihoods must therefore concentrate on institutional mechanisms for gaining access to resources, rather than only on establishing universalised legalistic rights frameworks.