Durbans bulkwater arrangements

Durban's water supply infrastructure was originally developed through large municipal projects in the early-mid-twentieth century. As a result, the city's engineers have been lauded in several publications for their heroic efforts in harnessing water for the city (see Lynski 1982). From 1984, however, under pressure from the central government, the city was required to sell its bulk-water infrastructure to a water board. Originally termed the Umgeni Water Board, this has now been abridged to Umgeni Water. Later in the chapter, I will go into some of the early debates around the establishment of this entity. It is important to note that, from the start, the relationship between municipality and bulk-supplier has been tense. Durban makes up approximately 85 percent of the entity's bulk-water custom. The municipality, in short, has provided its reason for existence. The bulk-water tariff to the city has, however, increased steadily since 1984, with several unprecedented rises between the late 1990s and 2002.

Full of ambiguities, Umgeni Water is now a state-owned entity with an aggressive commercial subsidiary. It is a curious, part-privatized, public service provider and (perhaps more bizarrely) a not-for profit entity whose "bottom line" in 2001 was "People, Planet, Profit". Perhaps because of this confused identity, the organization has been quite successful at raising finance on private markets, whilst being singularly unsuccessful at finding profitable outlets for investing this capital. In the mid 1990s, as it became increasingly urgent for Umgeni Water to find investments for the capital it had been able to raise, it sought to exploit new opportunities within the water sector. One such opportunity lay in expanding commercial operations into other parts of the African continent. Another potential outlet for investment lay in what it hoped would be a lucrative, emerging market in the South African rural water sector. Finally, as these options proved to be slightly more insecure than had first been hoped, Umgeni Water turned, in the late 1990s, to the service from which it was best able to guarantee returns: it imposed massive tariff increases on the two municipalities it serves with bulk water— Umsunduzi (formerly Pietermaritzburg) and eThekwini. To begin to understand Umgeni Water's actions requires an understanding of the entity's role in relation to the accumulation process in South Africa. This forms the historical geographical materialist framework to my understanding of the metabolic processes of capital accumulation in Durban's waterscape. In the following section I clarify some of these theoretical foundations.

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