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Although Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) has been adopted in the Limpopo river basin as a way of improving water resources management, it is not known whether, or how, the framework has improved practices in water resources management and contributed towards improved livelihoods in the basin. This study used a bottom-up approach to analyse water management practices and livelihoods in the river basin. The study shows the importance of context as a driver of practices in water resources management. This suggests that the challenges in water resources management cannot be solved outside of the wider socio-politico-economic realm. Intended for water resources managers at both the river basin and sub-basin level and policy makers, providing practical and useful insights to actors involved development work either through government departments or non-governmental organisations. It will also be of interest to scholars of natural resources management.