Shaping hydropolitics in Durban : community activist strategies in Chatsworth.
Rogoll, Jana Louisa.
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This study is an attempt to better understand the strategies adapted by local community organizations to challenge hydropolitics in the city of Durban. In the debate of hydropolitics in Durban two very different images prevail. On the one hand, there has been wide acknowledgment of eThekwini Water and Sanitation’s pioneering approach to water management and its achievements in water provision to the poorest in society. On the other hand, academics and civil society have found eThekwini Municipality’s approach to be flawed and non-inclusive, a neoliberalist approach to cost recovery. High levels of protest that spark around the city voicing dissatisfaction with service delivery seem to support the critics. Community organizations such as the Westcliff Flats Residents Association (WFRA) in Westcliff, Chatsworth have been at the forefront of challenging eThekwini Municipality’s approach to water provision and further, its ignorance towards the poor. Debates around water provision involves the questions “who gets what [water], when, where and how” (Turton, 2002, p. 16). While this is traditionally understood as a resource allocation by the state, there has been increasing attention on the role of civil society and the potential to achieve change in this entity. This study draws on Miraftab’s (2004) concept of “invited” and “invented” spaces to analyze where participation is taking place and how it has shaped the relationship between communities and local government. Moreover, Foucault’s approach of governmentality is used to consider how far community activism has impacted on local government planning and decision making in Durban. The study draws on a series of semi structured, in-depth interviews with members of the WFRA, as well as the local Ward Councillor and eThekwini Water and Sanitation Unit. The study’s main findings are that while the decentralization of local government was meant to bring democracy closer to the people and actively involve them in local government, there are many challenges remaining. This is evident in the rather narrowed approach to “invited” spaces and a general denigration of community activism in “invented” spaces which has undermined the ability of meaningful citizen engagement in hydropolitics. This has in the case of the WFRA led to a creation of distrust of municipal authorities and the Ward Councillor amongst the community and a general feeling of not being taken seriously by the government. The study argues that hydropolitics in Durban has to become more sensitive to community challenges as well as everyday protest and the potential of local communities as agents of change. Even though active citizenry is important in modern government strong community advocacy may lead to an increasing governmentalization of civil society shifting responsibility away from the state onto communities.