Implicit or illicit? Self-made infrastructure, household waters, and the materiality of belonging in Cape Town

Angela D. Storey
University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, US; angela.storey@louisville.edu

ABSTRACT: Residents of informal settlements in Cape Town, South Africa, access water through a maze of infrastructural pieces stitched together by social connections, political solidarities, and intersecting needs. In the absence of sufficient formal provision, the labour of informal settlement residents creates and maintains many of the pieces of water infrastructure used daily to fill gaps in access. Water lines are extended, shared, split and broken, and wastewater disposal spaces are constructed, each forging routes of access beyond formal provision and yet tying residents to wider systems. Based on a decade of ethnographic work conducted with residents of informal settlements in the Khayelitsha area of Cape Town, this article examines the difficulty of differentiating between formal and informal, legal and illegal, and public and private pieces of water systems. I argue for understanding such material pieces at the edges of water systems as implicit infrastructures, wrought at the intersection of local labour to manage multiple household waters, persistent structural exclusion, and neoliberal reworking of public services. Such a naming requires understanding infrastructural systems for water as both porous and exclusionary, highlighting the ways through which logics of urban resources frame everyday lives as beyond the purview of the state.

KEYWORDS: Water, infrastructure, informal settlements, urban anthropology, South Africa