State capture’s impact on South African water sector reform
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South Africa's water laws and reform policies were once the envy of the world. Today, water infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly and millions more people have no access to a clean water supply than was the case a few years ago. What has happened?
State capture is an extreme and specific form of systemic corruption, where state decision-makers use and abuse private interests for their own or a particular group's benefit. Since 2018, the South African Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture has been hearing testimony. At the centre of the Commission's inquiry are members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) including party members with business links to the ANC, CEOs of state-owned enterprises, directors general, previous ministers and former and current presidents. Economically, the estimate of total looted financial resources across the entire economy varies from between R500 billion to R1 trillion (USD 340 million to USD 690 million). With such vast sums syphoned off by public and private individuals to line their own pockets, it is not difficult to imagine how water sector reform could fall by the wayside or even be captured, often in the name of radical economic transformation (Muller, 2016), which is part of the ANC's ideology of the South African political and policy formulation landscape.
A program of water allocation and management reforms had been carried out since 1994 with institutional changes in the policy, legal and organisational dimensions. These influenced all water sub-sectors including allocation of water to the environment (the reserve) culminating in the new national water act, a new national water policy and a national water strategy. The focus shifted from centralised water management to a more decentralised dispensation, user participation, the allocation of water through a licensed-based system and the reserve (Backeberg, 2005). Catchment management agencies (CMAs) give effect to decentralisation and user participation.
Despite the slow progress recorded, analysts and commentors have consistently hailed the reforms as a shining example to the rest of the world. The National Water Act (No. 36 of 1998) (RSA, 1998), for instance, is described as one of the most progressive water acts in existence (Schreiner, 2013). Regarding criticism, many analysts draw the same conclusion; there is nothing wrong with the purpose; implementation is problematic (Schreiner and Hasan, 2010; Schreiner, 2013). Why is this so? What role does the state with reference to the ANC as government play?
To answer these questions, we need to understand that the ANC, since the time of former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, had substantially conflated and ultimately fused the ANC with the state to such an extent that it is frequently inextricable and indistinguishable from the state. When scholars and practitioners highlight politics as a hindrance, they refer to the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) and specifically problems at ministerial and director-general levels. Incompetence and internal politics are advanced as the central problems, and specifically the frequent appointments and suspension of directors general and ministers (Schreiner, 2013). Internal politics is at the heart of the problem, but analysts, often ANC and former Departmental insiders of the reform process (Merrey, 2011), stop short of going into detail on the ANC's ideology.
At the centre of these 'leadership challenges' was not so much the internal politics of the department, but the ANC ideology and former President Zuma's propensity for regular cabinet reshuffles in the name of radical socio-economic transformation. The result led to a high turnover rate of directors general and ministers. An analysis indicated that from May 2009 to August 2013 there had been 114 directors general of the 33 national government departments (Van Onselen, 2013; Booysen, 2015). During the same period there were 24 new ministers, 30 new deputy ministers and 81 new directors general. In DWS, between 2004 and 2013 three ministers held the office during four terms, with a debilitating effect on implementing the Act (Schreiner, 2013) and, by default, water sector reforms such as the implementation of the CMAs, not to mention water services to the population.
The problem is state capture and cadre deployment due to the command-and-control style ideology that is out of synch with reality. A constantly changing institutional environment breaks continuity and the organisational memory operating within a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous social environment. Another effect is that structures are built around political appointees that invite like-minded collaborators from the party, resulting in the institutionalisation of corruption. When these leaders are replaced, the structure breaks down. Cabinet reshuffles and constant political appointees as directors general and ministers in the department entails that persons become the structures constituting the personalisation of water sector policy formulation and implementation.
In 2016, Mike Muller, a former water affairs director general, noted that the so-called radical economic transformation initiatives are nothing but state capture by a corrupt elite. Systemic corruption has had such a debilitating impact on the country's water and sanitation service that the number of people without a reliable water supply increased by 2 million between 2011 and 2015. Also, by 2016, construction of the Vaal River System water supply scheme, was in 2016 more than five years late (Muller, 2016) and telemetry within the Vaal River system no longer functions properly because of finances that had been diverted elsewhere, such as to fund election campaigns. Due to cadre deployment, the country is rapidly losing its ability to manage the country's water resources. Since 1998, only two of the nine envisioned CMAs had been established: the Breede-Gouritz and the Inkomati-Usuthu (Meissner et al., 2016). Currently, plans are afoot to consolidate the nine CMAs into six due to financial constraints.
We see examples of the government's undersupplied capacity in some local governments, where the governance capacity has already diminished to such an extent that civil society organisations are stepping in to manage water purification and wastewater treatment works. Government institutions are losing the capacity to manage water infrastructure effectively, which in turn is undermining the legitimacy of thestate and the welfare of the people.
An important element responsible for this diminishing statehood is the ruling party's national democratic revolution ideology. Its purpose is to bring the economy, society, and the state under the control of the party. The ideology is one of the aspects analysts and commentators should also consider to understand water sector reform and policy formulation and implementation since it is a central aspect within the water policy landscape. This is not to say that the ideology is the most important factor. However, considering it in analyses of, for instance, water re-allocation and power dynamics within CMAs, could provide a more nuanced and deeper understanding of South African water reform. State capture of South Africa's water ministry demonstrates how personalities, armed with such an ideology, can influence this policy domain to such an extent that it inhibits water allocation, availability and policy reform.
Backeberg, G.R. 2005. Water institutional reforms in South Africa. Water Policy, 7: 107-123.
Booysen, S. 2015. Dominance and decline: The ANC in the time of Zuma. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
Meissner, R., Funke, N., Nortje, K. 2016. The politics of establishing catchment management agencies in South Africa: The case of the Breede-Overberg Catchment Management Agency. Ecology and Society, 21(3):26.
Merrey, D.J. 2011. Time to reform South African water reforms. Book review of Schreiner and Hassan (Eds), 2011. Transforming water management in South Africa: Designing and implementing a new policy framework. Springer. Water Alternatives, 4(2): 252-255.
Muller, M. 2016. South Africa's water sector: a case study in state capture. The Conversation, December 1.
Republic of South Africa (RSA). 1998. The National Water Act, No. 36 of 1998. Pretoria: Government Printer.
Schreiner, B. and Hassan, R. 2011. Lessons and conclusions. In: Schreiner, B. and Hasan, R. (eds.), Transforming water management in South Africa: Designing and implementing a new policy framework. Dordrecht: Springer.
Schreiner, B. 2013. Why has the South African National Water Act been so difficult to implement? Water Alternatives, 6(2):239-245.
Van Onselen, G. 2013. The short life of a DG in the regime of Jacob Zuma. Sunday Times, 1 September.
For recent analysis, as requested by the ANC minister of Water and Sanitation, see the report of Corruption Watch in collaboration with the Water Integrity Network at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339935962_Money_down_the_drain_-_Corruption_in_South_Africa's_water_sector
In the late 1990s when I was at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) we began engaging with South Africa because of our interest in its new water laws. At the time its water reform program was seen as the "gold standard", with all the right buzzwords, and was being emulated by other countries. We chose to open an office in South Africa (on the government's invitation) and I arrived in November 2000 as the first IWMI Director for Africa.
We collaborated closely over the years with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) as it was then called, Water Research Commission, Limpopo Province, and various universities. We were interested in both learning from the the implementation of the reforms, and contributing lessons from elsewhere where we could. We had a strong partnership with these institutions; for example we co-organized with DWAF the water and sanitation side event to the World Summit on Development in 2002. The leadership from Minister on down, and the professional people in DWAF were highly committed to using the water law to transform access to water as a major driver to achieve broader social, economic and political transformation. And progress was being made in many areas, albeit not as rapidly as I at least had hoped. Nevertheless, those were exciting days for all of us!
Now some 20-25 years later, the results are not nearly what we had hoped. After making impressive progress in the first decade toward increasing access to water and sanitation and implementing experiments from which lessons were learned and sometimes applied subsequently, it now appears that infrastructure and services are crumbling and the water sector is facing serious crises.
Richard attributes this state-of-affairs to "state capture" by members of the ruling party who siphoned off huge amounts of funds and inserted themselves into leadership positions. The Department has lost many of its top professionals and perhaps not succeeded in replacing them. Without denying that state capture is part of the explanation, I want to suggest some other factors.
One is that in the early years, the government was reluctant to make any radical changes. It chose instead to use negotiation and broad consultation with stakeholders to try to achieve buy-in and avoid resistance to change. This led to endless meetings and workshops where all the right things were said, but not much was decided or implemented. As a result, the gigantic inequities in access to water -- and land -- persisted. Water and land reform should have been pursued seriously in an integrated manner but was not. I remember several instances when I suggested to the Department that it should move more rapidly and try things out, even if mistakes were made, in order to use the authority they still had. But they were reluctant to "rock the boat", in part out of fear of endless lawsuits.
Perhaps a related issue was that the technical people running the Department did not fully recognize the strength of the vested interests in the status quo. Many large scale white farmers recognized that things had to change, were very good at saying positive things, but in the end were prepared to make only minor concessions. I suppose they succeeded in convincing others that any radical reform would undermine the productivity and prosperity of their businesses which would have larger impacts on employment and the economy. Maybe, but this thesis was never tested.
It would be good if either people who were involved in the water reform process, or people from other countries who tried to apply South Africa's model in other countries, would weigh in and express their views on this post.
It is quite unfortunate that those who are elected or appointed to serve the people and provide one of the most needed resources-water for human survival and development have turned against the people to serve their personal greed through acts of corruption. The ANC government needs to work hard to win the trust of the people by carrying out comprehensive and transparent reforms of the water sector to meet the increasing demand of the people for safely managed water.
I understand the concept of agency capture, which is hardly unique to South Afirca. But I am puzzled by the role of that concept here. Usually it refers to the capture of regulatory agencies by the entities they are supposed to regulate so that the agency instead of roping in the misbehavior of the objects of regulation, the agency serves to insulate those objects from control or limitation. I am also familiar with the concept of rent seeking, another reality that is hardly unique to South Africa. Again that usually refers to entities outside the government seeking to exploit government policies and programs for private benefit. Either of both of these could be described as corruption. The posted comment seems to circle around both concepts but focuses on benefit to the ANC, which is not the object of regulation when it comes to water. It would seem to be, perhaps, just plain old corruption. Perhaps i am missing something. If so, please explain.
Thank you very much for the comment and the concepts you presented. State capture at the level we are experiencing in South Africa occurred in both Bulgaria and Romania as well. In Bulgaria, the Premier Boyko Borissov is accused of weakening state institutions to such an extent that 'powerful tycoons' were able to financially benefit from the situation. Incidentally, Borissov has been dominating Bulgarian politics from 2009, two years after Jacob Zuma was elected South African president. Bulgarian state capture is keeping Bulgaria the poorest member of the European Union. That said, state capture seems to manifest at the highest levels of government, whereas rent seeking and agency capture appears at lower levels. In other words, where rent seeking and agency capture happen in parts of the bureaucracy, state capture, in South Africa's case permeates the entire government apparatus, state-owned enterprises included, and manifest in (almost) all government institutions to some extent. According to the World Bank, administrative corruption affecting the implementation of laws, rules and regulations, while 'state capture describes corruption that affects the actual design of the laws and regulations themselves'. This, after it reported on state capture in Romania. The World Bank also classifies state capture as one form of corruption.
Thank you for clarity. As you mentioned, the problem of (water) governance is widespread. In my recent book (“Sefficiency in Sequity”), the problem was analysed and a sustainable solution was presented for changing the way we look at water. Here, I would like to give one of its aspects.
Francis Fukuyama in his 2013 “What Is Governance?” states that the quality of governance depends on bureaucratic autonomy and capacity. As autonomy decreases, capacity has a relatively greater influence on the quality of governance (non-linearly). In water literature, there is a big confusion between water governance and water management. However, focusing on capacity at the level of management, many agencies, such as, UN Water, FAO and EU water point to the fact that capacity building mainly depends on need and mindset of the stakeholders and water managers. There seems to be rather obvious that a long term, continuous and relatively independent learning process is crucial to any success in water management. But is there a major axis that such an attempt should be advanced? It seems the answer is yes, and it is equity that should be the major motivating axis.
You in IJGEI 2001 made a very pertinent definition of equity. This led me to propose four types of water policies, which were the logical outcome of a methodology that was influenced by the famous Rawls theory on justice and his Difference Principle. These sustainable equity policies (sequity) promote water equality, conservation and sustainable efficiency (sefficiency). In other words, the situation in South Africa and many other places (as you correctly mentioned) is perhaps to focus on a proper learning process in the context of equity.
this is a very interesting post about southafrican water laws and policy reforms we thought at the Water Integrity Network (WIN), whose Executive Director is one of your sources,Barbara Schreiner, that you might be interested in reading our report about corruption in South Africa's water sector.
We would be delighted if you would take a look and perhaps share your comments about it with us and/or with your audience!
Here is the link to the post and some downloads --> https://www.waterintegritynetwork.net/2020/03/12/watersectorcorruption-southafrica-2020report/
I read the executive summary and parts of the Water Integrity Network (WIN) report with great interest and agree with most of the content. That South Africa faces many water problems is undeniably true; the country is semi-arid to arid with water not always available where needed most. This situation is aggravated by corruption, not only in the water sector but other areas as well; electricity supply, the management of state-owned enterprises and the private sector. In other words, South Africa’s dire water situation, often called a crisis depending on the location and time (Cape Town’s “Day Zero” is an apt example), is not only a result of the hand nature had dealt, but it is also human-induced.
Mike Muller goes a long way to describe, in detail, the where, when, how and who of corruption in the water sector. His analysis is thorough and as such the report will be a valuable reference in future research to describe what happened in the sector over the past 14 years. I also think that Mike’s report debunked the myth that South Africa’s water sector reforms, once the envy of the international community, is anything but the reported gold standard of two decades ago. However, I don’t think this was Mike’s intention. Instead, he indicated how those responsible for governing water resources did not step up to the plate and deliver on their constitutional mandate. For this, I give Mike ten out of ten for bringing to light that which had plunged the water sector into a dire state. Mike’s report speaks to the democratic principle of freedom of expression igniting robust debate that aims at the improvement of the human condition.
Speaking of debate, I am lukewarm of two recommendations: designating the water sector as an ‘island of integrity’ and the intensification of black economic empowerment (BEE). Transparency International states that ‘there is no substantive evidence-based research on the sustainable impacts of islands of integrity on the wider system, nor is there enough specific literature on islands of integrity’. There is, therefore, at this stage not enough evidence to support the ‘islands of integrity’ argument and how it can fight corruption. To designate the water sector as an island of integrity, could not bring about the desired effects since the sector is not at the top of government’s policy hierarchy. It is not sure what is at the top under normal circumstances due to the myriad problems South Africa is facing. Currently within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic it is human health and the economy. Although water researchers would like to see water at the top because the resource is of vital importance, it just isn’t the case. The water sector and its accompanied policies is in many instances considered an auxiliary that supports other sectors. Without water, Eskom would find it difficult to generate electricity and hospitals would not function. The idea of an Anti-Corruption Water Forum will go a long way in combatting corruption within the water sector, but I don’t think that we should attempt to establish, as an experiment à la adaptive water governance, the water sector as an ‘island of integrity’ in a turbulent sea of corruption. The stakes are too high. What I would like to suggest is that researchers should be encouraged to conduct more research on so-called islands of integrity within the water sector itself and, at the same time, not feel they might be victimised. Such research projects will report on alleged corrupt practices to establish the nature and extent of corruption to establish the merits of the water sector as an island of integrity. I am not discounting it entirely. However, I think it is still early days to establish the water sector formally or informally as an island of integrity.
On BEE, the reading of media reports shows that South African society sees BEE as part of the state capture problem. To intensify it under the current circumstances could be counterproductive. Black economic empowerment has been responsible for establishing a vitally important middle class, something that is central to forming an equal, just, and stable society. However, and Mike is upfront about it, BEE together with cadre deployment opens opportunities for corruption. Considering the current rumblings surrounding the revelations at the Zondo Commission, to intensify BEE could be damaging because society doesn’t view it any longer as the catalyst of a black middle class but sees it as one of the foremost sources of corruption.
The purpose of the blog is to give a deeper understanding of the inner workings of the ruling party. Often, research on, and in, the water sector is devoid of such analyses. This is akin to the ‘streetlight effect’. ‘A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure, he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, "this is where the light is"’. The anecdote is illustrative of what psychologists refer to as observational bias. I am not saying that Mike and WIN suffers from this bias; but I have seen this in many research reports by researchers not well, or at all, versed in political dynamics when they conduct research. They simply don’t consider the ANC as a dominant role player when explaining water governance. The recommendations produced by such reports are quite idealistic indicating that researchers often grope in the dark because South African politics, as a subject, is not part of their training and consequent background knowledge. Those with such a background often shy away from such analyses often out of fear or they don’t have an interest in the matter. When considering water issues analysts are prone to focus on the sector and the resource it is (supposed) to govern because this is where the proverbial light is. We often divorce the larger political context from water sector occurrences. This, I believe, often results in recommendations that does not take the complexities of South African politics into consideration. Mike’s report paints a good deal of this picture and the consequences of state capture on a vitally important segment of society.
The response by Theo Venter sheds light on the inner workings of the ANC and my piece shows how the ruling party’s ideology is one of the driving factors of corruption. Together the pieces give us a deeper understanding of what is happening within the water sector and how dominant actors can impact negatively on people’s livelihood, not to mention the environmental damage corruption can cause. That state capture had a debilitating impact on many people’s water security is well captured by Mike’s analysis. The purpose of research is not only to develop recommendations to improve the system; researchers should sometimes also play the role of whistle-blowers in their quest to bring about a better situation. To do so, researchers should place greater emphasis on how South African political dynamics at local, provincial, and national level play out and how these undercurrents impact on individuals’ water (in)security.
Richard ends his post with a caveat: corruption is glaring but may be not the most important factor. Doug widens the debate to question how and why the political will (rather than capacity only) to implement the reform has been diluted in a matter of years, nobody at the end willing to "rock the boat".
Any concrete illustration of, and insight on, this process would indeed be very valuable because the 'lack of political will' is the black-box that is invariably conjured up to explain policy failure. Anyone with a key to open that box?
The ANC has several characteristics of a dominant party in a democratic order, but it has now reached a stage where everything is no longer in its favour, writes Theo Venter.
Thandi Modise, speaker of parliament, and Gwede Mantashe, chairperson of the ANC, testified before the Zondo commission from 16-19 April about the failure of parliament's oversight role in the process of state capture.
Modise was very direct and down to the man about the mistakes made by the national assembly. Mantashe was again more cautious and vaguer about efforts made by the ruling ANC to curb state capture regarding the role of former president in particular. Jacob Zuma.
In their testimony, a very interesting phenomenon emerges about the disadvantages of a dominant party system in a democratic order.
Political systems and party political dynamics are categorized in different ways. Most democratic systems have a division of executive, legislative and judicial powers, and functions. Legislative structures usually consist of lower houses and upper houses with different functions, as we see in the US Senate and House of Representatives, the British lower house and upper house and the South African National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. The normal division of legislative functions entails that the lower house initiates legislation and has control over the national budget. Second chambers have a kind of control function and represent special interests (provinces or states) or diversity.
The legislature also has a very important oversight role regarding the executive through parliamentary portfolio committees and similar structures. The so-called hearings that we often see in the US Congress are a good example of an oversight role.
In South Africa, parliament did the same with the Eskom crisis, but by then the damage was already too great.
Political parties in democracies compete for political power by participating in regular elections. There are different electoral systems such as proportional or single member constituency systems.
The results of such elections give rise to various party systems such as the well-known two-party or multi-party systems.
However, there is one interesting phenomenon in all these examples: the dominant party system or also the pre-dominant party system as the famous Giovanni Sartori chose to call it.
Characteristics of a dominant party
Dominant party systems occur when one party usually wins at least four consecutive elections. This means that such a party has been in power for about a generation.
Coalition governments are also possible during this period, provided that the dominant party is the senior partner in the relationship.
Examples are the National Party (1948–1994), the ANC (1994–2021), the Social Democrats in Sweden (1932–1976), the Indian National Congress (1947–2001) and the PRI in Mexico (1929–2000).
Dominant parties share some characteristics with each other. One is that they usually control all levels of government, which includes the legislature.
How then does parliament, where both houses are controlled by, for example, the ANC, as well as the executive, exercise its oversight role?
If it is added that the ANC also has a policy of "democratic centralism", it means that individual ANC members have very little room for manoeuvre in formal politics.
So, there is really no question of political oversight, but critical duplication and cover-up. Opposition parties do their best but are usually overwhelmed by the dominant party. The flexibility and room for manoeuvre to deal with national issues then shifts to the structures of the ruling party, such as the National Executive Committee (NEC).
However, it is no longer a public forum and we (outside the ruling party) rely on political leaks, official limited press conferences, hoaxes and woolly stories to try to reconstruct the debate on contentious issues.
The actions of the ANC during the Nkandla debacle were indicative of this process. It is precisely questions about state capture that well illustrated the characteristics of the ANC as a pre-dominant party and came to light with the testimony of Modise and Mantashe.
Other features of dominant party systems are:
• That they usually represent a very broad ideological basis and link different interests around a central idea. It is also sometimes called the Broad Church Principle. In the ANC, the struggle against apartheid is this central unifying factor. Pre-dominant parties also often form broad coalitions with other political groups and interest groups in society as evidenced by the ANC's alliance with the SACP, Sanco and Cosatu.
• This ideological basis can sometimes be too broad and often becomes the source of factions in a dominant party. We also see this in the ANC with the Radical Economic Transformation faction's policy as opposed to the ANC's economic policy.
• Parties that are ideologically dominant also use the government to use public policy in such a way that it fundamentally changes the nature of the state and society over time. Policies on race, black economic empowerment and sport are examples of this in South Africa.
The ANC's ageing crisis
However, dominant parties also have some advantages. One of the things we saw in South Africa was that these parties were able to mobilize enough support to ensure a stable transition to 1994 because so much social capital was tied up in the liberation party. Dominant parties also can give historical momentum to transition processes, something that smaller parties cannot do. Dominant parties lose over time eroding their effectiveness and social support which obscures the historical or fundamental building blocks of the political system.
This historical momentum therefore does not last forever and there are experts who believe that the momentum burns itself from 25 to 35 years after a transition. Dominant parties therefore also experience ageing crises. South Africa is currently in such a phase with local government elections taking place on 27 October 2021 amid the Covid-19 pandemic, weak economy and local authorities failing.
The lack of proper oversight by parliament in the nine lost years of the Zuma presidency has already cost South Africa trillions of Rands and will also cost the ANC political capital, but one of the interesting features of dominant parties in transitional societies is that they about the ability to rediscover themselves periodically.
This rediscovery and renewal (“re-engineering”) is a form of internal transformation within the organization and usually follows a political or economic crisis and is directly linked to strong and directional leadership.
The ANC is currently experiencing such a process with its side-by-side crisis, issues of internal corruption and the devastating consequences of factional fighting.
South Africa currently needs an ANC that can once again shift its focus and fight corruption within its own ranks. This will involve a fresh look at party discipline and the development of leadership renewal that will include internal criticism in the form of greater oversight of policy implementation.
The appointment of the Zondo Commission is in a sense part of this political catharsis for the ANC, even though it functions at state level and Mantashe was right in his criticism of the commission that his investigation is about the ANC as the dominant party.
After 109 years, the ANC is experiencing one of its most challenging crises that will deepen even further with the findings of the Zondo Commission and possible drop-in support in the local elections in October.
In dominant parties that rule for a long time, especially in a developing context such as that of South Africa, the difference between state and political party fades very quickly, especially because there is little competition from opposition parties. Across a political generation, the dominant party is then seen by its supporters as an extension of the government and the dominant party is thus institutionalized.
A pre-dominant system is also detrimental to smaller political parties because the major national issues are not disputed on public platforms, but in the caucus of the dominant party. Furthermore, strong opposition voices are often internalized in the dominant political party and consequently silenced. This happens by way of government posts being allocated or positions in the ruling party.
Another very important feature of dominant parties is that faction-driven erosions, and not rifts, take place. The emergence of the UDM, Cope and the EFF are good examples of this. Faction formation is not only the result of ideological tensions within a dominant party such as the ANC, but can also have, among other things, ethnic, leadership, regional or historical causes.
Because dominant parties remain in power for long periods without serious political competition, the parties also begin to make subtle use of state resources. From the coup hearings, the role that state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, Transnet and the South African Airways (SAA) played as sponsors of the ANC was a good example. Fortunately, it has been banned since April 1, 2021 by the new party funding law. The exploitation of state assets is unfortunately one of the universal features of a dominant party in a pre-dominant party system. In South Africa, this process is currently called state capture.
I concur with Doug Merrey and wouldn’t make of state capture the root of the South African National Water Act’s woes. I would see it more like an adjuvant of DWS decline process which started way earlier than the Zuma era (for instance, struggling with retaining minimum capacity within the Department has been an issue for DWS for decades, even before the ANC came into power). I also think that while the NWA has been righfully praised as a very progressive Act, the compatibility between the reform Act and the « already-there » in managing water in South Africa (the institutions, systems and processes already in place) was way overlooked. Just to take one example, it is not an easy task to switch from a centralized style of water management (with interbasin transfers) to a decentralised water management within catchment management agencies.
As for political leadership, as a historically urban-based movement, the ANC has been more focused on access to drinking water and sanitation, less on water as a resource and never really developed an expertise on water issues (we saw the same thing on land reform)
I will end with a reply to Magalie's comment and then ask some questions directly related to the water research agenda and the role of ideology therein.
When it comes to institutions and leadership, we need to remember that insitutions are constituted by humans that play varying leadership roles. Both linstitutions and leadership go hand in glove. If we accept that South Africa's water governance and management structures started to decline in their role before the Zuma administration and even during the National Party-controlled governments, we can then make the case that leadership plays one of the central roles in institutional decline. Institutions do not decline by themeselves; peoples' actions constitute such declines. That said, I agree with you that it is not an easy task to switch from a centralised systems to a decentralised system. My question now is, did the South African government switched from a centralised system to a decentralised system during the period 1994-1996? Or, did the new ANC-controlled government switched from one type of centralised system to another kind of centralised system? In other words, was the switch ideological, from a right-wing centralised system to a left-wing centralised system?
The point that I tried to make with the blog, and I will close the blog with this, is that ideology plays an important part in any government and governing system, be it the construction of housing, electricity supply, infrastructure development and maintenance or water and sanitation service provisioning. What I have noticed over the years is that these elements inherent in a political system, like ideology, is not placed centre stage in research, bar for a number of articles on the privatisation of water resources and the role of capitalism in such endeavours. With this in mind, we can ask a number of questions regarding the role of ideology in water research, such as: What role does environmentalism, as an ideology, play in constituting the water research agenda? Is ecologism driving the research agenda? To what extent is ideology influencing researchers' activities? What role does various societal actors play in the provisioning of water and sanitation services and to what extent is their ideological convictions important in explaining their involvement? These are some of the questions that could explain the current state of affairs in the water sector and what we can do to improve it or create new opportunities.