Viewpoint – The South African water sector: Municipal dysfunction, resistance and future pathways

Suraya Scheba
Environmental & Geographical Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa; suraya.scheba@uct.ac.za

ABSTRACT: In South Africa, local government is envisaged as a critical site of redistribution. This vision is laid out in the 1998 White Paper on Local Government. It imagined an entirely new kind of municipality, one that was focused on the delivery of services to all South Africans and was aimed at addressing historical injustices and reducing poverty and inequality. Now, however, more than two decades later, local government has become a site of systemic dysfunction. The financial and infrastructural state of municipalities is deeply troubling. This paper will unpack the influence and impact of privatisation and commercialisation principles on the South African water sector. The focus will be placed on the drivers of institutional and infrastructural dysfunction as they manifest themselves in the form of persistent inequality in water access. The systemic dimensions to municipal governance failure will be centred, as local government was envisioned as a critical site of redistribution. Thereafter, community responses and future pathways toward more just provisioning are considered.

KEYWORDS: South African water governance, cost recovery, service delivery, water rights, community resistance