Durbans contemporary waterscape

Durban is a distinctive and remarkable place in which to test propositions about the significance of the city and the significance of change in the city.

(Freund and Padayachee 2002:2)

As Freund and Padayachee argue, Durban is a city that is simultaneously at the centre and the periphery of a global economy. Its waterscape reflects this ambiguous and often contradictory position. Post-apartheid, the municipal water provider, eThekwini Water Services (eTWS), has connected an impressive 100,000 new households to the water network. From 1998 onwards, however, many of these new households have been disconnected, as the city tries to balance fiscal austerity, escalating bulk-water tariffs and the rising anger of community groups. At the same time, eTWS has provided a universal free basic water allowance to residents, consisting of 200 litres of "free" water per household per day. Whilst many claim not to be receiving this water, for some it has been a genuine lifeline. Paradoxically, however, as the free basic water policy is financed through cross-subsidization, often large, poor households have found the restructured tariff mechanism considerably worse. Arrears of over Rl 0,000 are common in townships across the municipality and flow limiters have been installed in order to restrict the supplies of debtors to the free basic allowance (for a more detailed discussion of Durban's water service transformations and the development of the free water allowance, see Loftus 2004). At the centre of many of these problems, I argue, is the bulk-water supplier to the city, Umgeni Water.

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