This paper addresses water-related issues in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Irrigation development and providing water for human consumption have been key factors in the country’s rural development planning, notably during the post-apartheid era when the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) and Water Services Act and Free Basic Water of 1997 became effective. By exploring the use of water in rural villages in the central Eastern Cape, the paper addresses the conceptual and practical limitations of the provisioning of water for human consumption and irrigation, in particular, and how this is being handled by various implementing agencies. The paper draws attention to the importance of ‘irrigation by night’ which refers to unplanned and ‘unlawful’ water-use practices. People in villages ‘unlawfully’ re-appropriate piped water for irrigation purposes to produce food and generate some income. The paper proposes a shift away from the rigid conceptualisations that currently form the backbone of planning to instead adopt a multiple-use system (MUS) approach which is more in tune with local practices currently observed in rural villages of South Africa.