Amanzi ngawethu! Water and the political economy of South Africa

Majbritt Fiil-Flynn

Studenteropgave: Speciale


Two decades after the end of Apartheid, South Africans were taking to streets to protest water service delivery in increasing numbers, and in many instances destroying or compromising water infrastructure in townships. These protests confound experts and policy makers who see South Africa as implementing policies designed to promote integrated water management based on devolution of decision making while integrating principles of equity, efficiency and sustainability. This paper explores drivers of protest in order to seek solutions that would ensure acceptance of water related development, specifically focused on urban townships. Combining participatory action research methodology and political economy theory, the paper examines drivers of social protest in three main spheres of policy-making and implementation: sector, project and national political apparatus. The key theme that emerges from this mixed-method analysis is that the loss of debate internally and externally within key power structures produced a self-sustaining cycle of discontent. National political apparatus and sector specific policies reproduced processes that insulated state power from dissent was immune to challenges as it was able to regenerate power in the facing of growing discontent. Specifically, the promise of participatory democracy was undermined by an elite transition in the post-Apartheid settlement that ensured insufficient redress of Apartheid inequality structures, a structure of inequality that was not just sustained, but reproduced in the water sector. This self-sustaining state trajectory had significant consequences to the erosion of support to water sector investments, in particularly in townships. The engagement of participatory action research was therefore instrumental in giving a voice to the township dwellers that were otherwise excluded from power. Given the multifaceted approach to the problem, the conclusion provides specific solutions to address the key challenges. These solutions reach from reforms of tariff structures to address socio-economic challenges in townships to governance reforms that would address power hegemony. While showing a range of solutions, the paper concludes that project and sector level solutions are insufficient to address the fundamental governance challenges that have reproduced inequity at all levels of South African society. Service related township protests and the rise of social movements in South Africa are therefore not just an illustration of challenges in the water sector, but more broadly demonstrate the current failure of participatory democracy in South Africa.

UddannelserInternationale Udviklingsstudier, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) KandidatTekSam - miljøplanlægning, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Kandidat
Udgivelsesdato26 feb. 2013
VejledereSøren Lund & Thorkil Casse


  • Anti Privatization Forum
  • Orange Farm Water Crisis Committee
  • Johannesburg
  • impact
  • political economy
  • protest
  • African National Congress
  • water
  • trajectory
  • transition
  • ANC
  • South Africa
  • township
  • Gcin’amanzi
  • Orange Farm
  • policy