Repository logo

An analysis of emerging relationships in water provision: an analysis of emerging relationships in water provision in South Africa.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



South Africa has one of the highest levels of inequality in the world, and the government has attempted to redress extensive material, social and political deprivation. It has been confronted by the tension between the need for rapid delivery of essential services and the aspiration for people-centred development. Limited resources and insufficient capacity have led the state to contract out service provision to the private sector. There has also been a shift toward self-sufficiency which has placed pressure on service users to manage their own development. 'Public-private Partnerships' have come to be a common feature of many development projects. These partnerships must be understood in relation to prevailing conditions within South Africa. Extensive poverty, social turbulence, an unaccountable state bureaucracy particularly in local government, and vested interests which do not support the goals of redistribution envisaged in the constitution all exist. Public-private partnerships are relatively new to South Africa. Four issues were raised about these relationships: Will they lead to the promotion of efficient and effective service delivery? Do they promote good governance? Is there a specific role for NGOs in public-private partnerships and finally what are the conditions for genuine participation by local communities within public-private partnerships? A study of public-private partnerships in the water sector, involved in the Community Water Supply and Sanitation Programme was undertaken. A variety of research methods, notably formal and semi-formal interviews and focus group discussions were employed to explore these relationships. Fieldwork was conducted between November 1998 and January 1999. The research involved familiarisation with new South African policy legislation which is set to alter the entire institutional environment. The study also drew upon international literature in order to assess the influence of global changes upon the water sector in South Africa, and also to locate the forms of water service provision within broader theoretical contexts. The key organisations which were investigated, and those which played a role in the Community Water Supply and Sanitation Programme were: the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry; the Mvula Trust, a large national non government organisation (NGO); various water committees supported by the Mvula Trust; and the Build, Operate, Train and Transfer (BOTT) consortia, which are joint ventures between the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF), private firms and the Mvula Trust. Turning first to the question of the efficiency and effectiveness of public-private partnerships in service delivery, the findings of this study reveal that there are gaps in service delivery in the water sector which are not being filled by public-private partnerships. Poor performance by project managers, cases of exploitation by project and training agents of community organisations, and insufficient accountability (especially on the BOTT projects) towards the water users, are widely in evidence. Key leadership and managerial functions within these ventures are missing. The findings of the study reinforce the need for the state to play an active role in managing and leading public-private partnerships. The second issue concerning the relationship between public-private partnerships and good governance, reflects confusion in state priorities. The Water Services Act stipulates the importance of local government managing water service provision. Yet public-private partnerships currently bypass this level of governance. Turning to the third issue of the role for NGOs in public-private partnerships, it could be argued that like other NGOs in South Africa Mvula has to deal with various contradictions. In many ways it operates as a parastatal, not as an NGO. Mvula is dependent on the state for funding, the recent funding crisis has highlighted the dangers of such reliance upon the state, and Mvula can be criticised for being short sighted and too trusting. It has also meant that Mvula has had to adopt DWAF's policy objectives which differ markedly from those of the Trust. At another level, though, Mvula's ability to introduce innovative approaches to water service delivery and to influence policy on water service delivery proves that there are ways in which state and non-state actors can engage in useful relationships. The debate about participation has also been woven into the discussion about public-private partnerships. The basis for public-private partnerships in South Africa has been that local communities would manage their own development processes. Radical participation has been entrenched both in the constitution of SA and in the goals of the RDP. Yet none of the actors (even the Mvula Trust) promote radical participation. At best a watered down version based on community consultation was applied, although in numerous projects participation was token. For the foreseeable future participation will remain a central element of service delivery. Service providers will have to allocate more resources and time toward supporting community organisations to manage their own development. This in tum will increase the costs of service delivery. In the long term these functions should be handed over to local government, in order that rural dwellers may concentrate on their livelihoods. The most critical project in the next ten to fifteen years will be to build strong local government. The biggest challenge will be to change the organisational mindset of these presently conservative and weak structures. A theme, which has underpinned this dissertation, has been the debate between efficiency and equity. Questions remain as to whether it was possible to reconcile these perhaps conflicting goals. In essence: was it possible for public-private partnerships to deliver basic services, both speedily and by redistributing resources to the poorest. This research has found that public-private partnerships in the water sector have failed to excel with either of these goals. The Mvula trust is concerned with the participation of the poorest, yet these projects are much slower than the services provided by the BOTT consortia. The BOTT consortia are able to undertake rapid service delivery although there is limited involvement by local communities, which in turn threatens the long-term sustainability of the BOTT projects. The lessons to be learnt from this case study are that privatisation and the contracting out of state services need to be accompanied by the simultaneous development of strong institutions. These include NGOs, CBOs, private contractors and local and national state institutions.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1999.


Rural development--South Africa., Public-private sector cooperation., Water-supply--South Africa., Community development--South Africa., Economic development projects--South Africa., Theses--Community development.