In many ways the eThekwini Municipality has been a jewel in Durban’s crown, winning a string of awards for its management, developments and innovations.
It had also made substantial inroads into meeting its water delivery backlogs, even picking up UN and Stockholm Industry accolades. But beneath the surface the picture wasn’t also so rosy, said Associate Professor Mary Galvin, of the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg, in her presentation, Of Water and Stones: Citizens’ attempts to access water in South Africa’s liberal democracy, on the opening day of WSSF2015.
Looking at four townships in the municipality, Galvin unpacked the troubles communities have faced to access water, and pointed out the political rivalries and infighting that dictated who got water, and who didn’t.
This marred citizens’ experiences of democracy, said Galvin. For one thing, the councillor system of participatory democracy wasn’t working as intended. In response some communities protested, while others just opted out of any real participation.
“At the local level there’s a disjuncture and disconnect, an emptiness – I’m using the term ‘empty democracy’,” said Galvin. “In many ways it goes back to the perception that we cannot have a democracy that people recognise on the ground without meeting socio-economic rights.”
Author: Sarah Van Der Ahee from HIPPO Communications.