A Political Ecology of Water Struggles in Durban, South Africa

A J Loftus

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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This thesis looks at the relationshp between water and social power. It attempts to answer two questions: who controls the distribution of water in the South African city of Durban? And how might this distribution be transformed in positive democratic ways? In attempting to answer these questions, the thesis provides insights into post-apartheid South African society and the possibilities for democratic social change. The framework of analysis builds upon work conducted in urban political ecology. In particular, I argue that urban environments, indeed all environments, should be understood as created ecosystems. Recognising this, I suggest that Durban's waterscape should be seen as produced through capitalist social relations. The waterscape thereby becomes a particular accumulation strategy through which profits may be generated. for Durban's communities, one of the most direct effects of this capitalist accumulation strategy is that access to water is dependent upon the exchange of money. Whilst this situation has been amerliorated somewhat through the development of a free basic water policy, the policy itself has necessitated a much tighter regulation of domestic supplies and, in effect, a more severe commodification of each household's water supply. In turn, this has resulted in water infrastructure acquiring power over the lives of most residents. This, I argue, is a result of the social relations that come to be invested within that infrastructure. The possibilities for change that are suggested lie within the struggle for feminist standpoint and the connection of these situated knowledges of the waterscpe with a broader historical and geographical understanding of the terrain of civil society. from such an understanding of civil society, a dialectical critique of hegemony is opened up. Overall, the thesis moves from an analysis of the power relations camprising the waterscape to the development of a critique from which, it is hoped, the possibilities for political change might emerge.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Social Power
  • Water
  • South Africa
  • Apartheid
  • Waterscape
  • Society
  • Feminism

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