Increasing the capacity of water users to influence decision-making is crucial in river basin management reforms. This article assesses emerging forums for river basin management in Mexico and South Africa and concludes that the pace of democratization of water management in both is slow. Mexico is characterized by continued government dominance and attempts to include already organized stakeholders in decision-making, while substantive stakeholder representation is lacking. South Africa is placing emphasis on social mobilization and transformation, leading to a slower implementation process and struggles over the redistribution of resources. While not a panacea, moving from stakeholder participation to substantive stakeholder representation in river basin management holds more promise of achieving equitable water management. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.