Conclusion

Market environmentalism, one approach informing water privatization, on closer examination, has overcome a number of political hurdles as it tries to present water and nature in the image of a commodity. One of the key points that emerges from the case studies is that once water is commodified through a private partnership where the state is driven by a private sector logic, it lacks a political, social and administrative salience for the people it is servicing. When a partnership uses authoritarian measures to enforce consumer compliance to the rules associated with receiving marketized services, such an approach can spur the growth of informal acts of everyday resistance by the poor (Scott 1985; Peet and Watts 1996). In many instances, these service users are simply too poor to afford the price of water and use these acts of resistance as survival tactics. Given this socio-economic reality amidst the proliferation of partnerships that commodify water, it is no accident that water issues have become the trigger for powerful new social movements (Bond 2002). Marketization is a not simply a transfer of services from one basket to another; in reality, it creates an entirely different service and produces a different environmental imaginary. Socio-political and ecological relationships of residents and workers to "resources" and to the municipality, and between residents themselves, create new discourses, institutions and rules of the game—in short new forms of governmentality, and social-ecological space (Williams 1994; Lefebvre 1996).

The struggle to win the hearts and minds of the consumer is lost when physical violence is done to the body of the consumer and the community through water disconnections. In such instances, the state mistakenly assumes it can play a passive role by decentralizing its responsibility to an apparently depoliticized external provider. It later has to assume a critical role in mediating the turbulent dynamics between an external provider and service users. Service users who feel that the manner in which services are delivered to them is unjust may on the surface appear as victims, but in fact can shift the power dynamics of the partnership in their favour by virtue of their resistance through nonpayment and illegal reconnections.

To conclude, in this chapter we have asked three questions in the hope of finding a nexus between the service delivery/partnership literature and the value that an urban political ecology theory has to offer. First, we asked how has the state/citizen interaction, through the delivery of public services, been transformed via the participation of an external service provider? We have shown that state-company- citizen relations are reconfigured in the direction of commodified relations. Significant cut-offs and restrictions of water uses by the poor occurred in all three cases. In both the Nelspruit and Fort Beaufort cases, the service provider arrogantly stepped into an area ridden with historical inequality and learnt very quickly that "managing the poor" is not easy. The reconfiguration of power when an external provider moves to the forefront of the delivery machine is constantly undermined by political factors and most often by popular resistance. We would therefore agree that privatization is more than a transfer of functions or assets, but a reconfiguration and change of the service itself (Edgell et al. 1996; Clarke 1996; Lee 1997; Lorrain and Stoker 1997). We would, however, modify the statement by saying that political imperatives and the poor themselves also play a major part in forcing the partial decommodification of services. The impoverished idea of citizenship when dominated by a cash nexus has proven hard to implement in South Africa's water services experiments.

Second, we asked about the power dynamics of distribution and how these dynamics are altered when third parties enter into the negotiation process? We have seen that the idea that "non-political" private firms are better positioned than municipalities to change public behaviour is simply inaccurate. In none of the cases mentioned where private sector principles have prevailed have payment levels improved. A common reason motivating the decision for local authorities choosing to partner with external operators is to avoid the virtual collapse of the delivery of essential services. When the decentralization of service delivery to external providers is motivated by such circumstances, the inherent management problems of the sector in question are not necessarily resolved because of the tension emerging from different expectations. The state expects the external provider to protect the local authority's constitutional obligations to deliver water to all, the external service provider expects that its service users will be compliant by paying, and the township service users expect an affordably priced and higher quality of service than what was provided under the apartheid regime. This chapter has illustrated that water partnerships following private sector principles have great difficulty in reconciling these differing expectations.

A concession or a long-term management contract claim to be useful service delivery alternatives by offering much-needed financial services and technical expertise to the state. The case studies above illustrate that this mantra is not necessarily true if it is at the cost of eroding the governance of the city council and undermining the ability of low-income communities to access water. Here is where the institutional model of a concession or "delegated management" presents a paradox: as a service delivery model set out to meet the needs of the poor, the logic of profit and efficiency that drive the management of these private sector models do not lend themselves to the patience and flexibility required to deliver services to poor people. Furthermore, the management style of these institutional models is to concentrate power and the decision-making processes of water distribution into an autonomous entity that is above the reach of political intervention—a trend that moves counter to the democratization processes that are vital if services are to be delivered in a socially just manner. Once a contract is signed, the municipality is at the weaker end of the bargaining relationship since it cannot easily regain its lost capacity and labour force to service new urban growth. Neither can it easily sign a different contract with a different company for newly incorporated areas, hence the long "lock-in" factor after the contract has been signed. Service providers are well aware of how contracts can operate in their financial interests once the initial turbulent dynamics settle. This confidence makes service providers akin to "growth statesmen" by taking a proactive stance in regional growth coalitions because they have sunk assets in specific areas (Logan and Moloch 1987).

Third, we have suggested that urban political ecology might benefit from more consideration of the difficulties of governing the poor by incorporating the idea that the poor often decide to exit the system when staying in becomes too onerous. This disengagement option, however, presages much wider collapses in governance and much weaker state penetration into the everyday life of the public. The weaker the state becomes, the less accountable it is. This exacerbates public scepticism and distrust and takes a costly social and political toll especially in strategic urban centres. This slide into two publics, one inside the framework of the law and the other outside, is what constitutes the current juncture of urban water distribution in South Africa today.

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