Conclusion

All this would seem to imply that, over the last decade, the political ecology of Durban's waterscape has increasingly come to embody the contradictory tendencies of a capitalist system of accumulation. The local waters of the city constitute a sphere in which a commercialized state entity has attempted to ensure its profitability, through fencing in something formerly considered to reside outside of capital's orbit. Simultaneously, this entity has tried to expand its operations throughout the African continent—but failed dismally. Always something of an odd entity, Umgeni Water was originally created by the South African state, in order to give added legitimacy to its creation of separate Bantustans. As a democratic government replaced its racist predecessor in 1994, the water board had to find a place for itself in a radically changed world. Competitive pressures would mean that it had to drastically restructure and find new outlets in which to make profitable investments. In the 1990s, its ability to raise cheap finance became an acute problem as debts began to mount and the availability of good investment opportunities seemed limited. Fortunately, the government passed legislation giving water boards the freedom to engage in commercial activities. Umgeni Water rose to the challenge but, at the same time, proved that it was a somewhat uncompetitive water services provider. On the one hand it sought to exploit new opportunities within the domestic South African market and, on the other, it sought to expand deeper into the African continent. When these strategies failed, it returned to its most secure asset, its bulk-water sales to Durban. Whilst investing some capital in new bulk-water infrastructure that might provide longer-term possibilities for profitable investments, the organization was also able to raise tariffs to the two municipalities it serves. The result, in Durban, was much greater emphasis on recovering the full costs of supplying water to residents and an aggressive policy of disconnecting those who were unable or unwilling to pay. Finally, as tariffs reached unmanageable levels, eThekwini Municipality rebelled. Umgeni Water's wings were clipped in subsequent negotiations and future increases will (so its bosses promise) be kept to what the municipalities consider to be more reasonable levels.

On the one hand, the opening up of our socio-natural environment to the accumulation process poses deep problems. The struggles of those fighting against disconnections are ample testimony to the need for the democratization of socio-natural processes. On the other hand, through analyzing the crisis-prone path to which the accumulation process tends, we have seen the actions of capital to be a sign of weakness and not strength. The fractious relationships between capitals and the sometimes-fraught relationships with tiers of the state show further signs of weakness. Rich potentials therefore lie in exploring an immanent (and materialist) critique of the metabolic processes that shape this waterscape.

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