Introduction

The growth of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the delivery of essential services to urban residents has been articulated as a form of market-based decentralized service delivery that makes services more efficient and brings governance structures closer to the people (Pirie 1988; Stoker 1989). Two intended key outcomes of PPPs aside from technical and financial objectives, are de-politicizing services and discursively constituting citizens as customers. Water is being revalued and re-presented as a scarce economic good. With this shift, the triangular relationships between the external provider, the state and the citizen—the three critical agents in the delivery of water—take on new forms with the ascent of the neo-liberal paradigm. When the external provider takes the lead in fostering a relationship with the citizen, the model of interaction is one of "customer management" and "sustainable development" in order to resolve the cost recovery constraints facing the state as well as educating users to appreciate water as a "scarce ecological resource". The relationship between the town and nature—a key focus of political ecology—gets significantly recast with the naturalization of scarcity and the commodification of water (Harvey 1996:147-148). The outcome of this mode of governance, when examined at the local level, deepens rather than contains, the struggles for access to water.

Urban political ecology can provide useful critical tools for rethinking processes surrounding the politics of distribution and the production of water (Peet and Watts 1995; Escobar 1995; 1996; Swyngedouw 1997). In addition key questions about the socio-physical production of water as socio-nature are often ignored in distributional debates but become more evident in the critical political ecology tradition (Harvey 1996). Using this lens, this chapter examines the manner in which the triangular relationship amongst the service user, provider and state is mediated, strategized and routinized.

We ask several questions in assessing the impacts of decentralized forms of delivery. First, how has the state/citizen interaction, through the commercial delivery of public services, been transformed? Second, what are the power dynamics of distribution and how are these altered when third parties enter into the negotiation process? Third, how can an urban political ecology approach be used as a theoretical tool for analyzing how decision-makers arbitrate the distribution of urban resources and in doing so become key agents in the governance and control of the populations they serve?

The nature of conflict over access to municipal resources in cities across the Global South is particularly important in light of the constraint posed by weak and underdeveloped administrative mechanisms for distribution. This lacuna in the literature has been addressed through the recent plethora of case studies on cities in the Global South (Beal et al. 2002; McDonald and Pape 2002; Harrison et al. 2003; McDonald and Ruiters 2005). One of the challenges remaining for this evolving sub-discipline of geography is how to ground it in the reality of strategic local governance, and the politics of reproduction and the production of need. Political ecology examines not only patterns of capital accumulation, but also the controls over different populations via the administration of various modes of access to resources. Urban political ecology, as a field of study, sees power as a central theme, relevant for the study of managing urban populations (Escobar 1995; Payer 1982) within the new discourse of ecological scarcities, active citizenship and the commodification of nature. When the managerial approach to public resources becomes entrepreneurial, these three discourses are the inevitable outcomes.

In this context of the "roll back of the state", Foucault's conception of governmentality is particularly useful for analyzing the relational dynamics of power within a decentralized context of service delivery. Modes of governmentality refer to "forms of calculated practice (both in and outside government) to direct categories of social agency (Dean 2000). The practice of the everyday is normalized to conform to a particular political ecology framework. Foucault refers to this diffusion of government control via a range of practices as the "governmentalization of the state". Political power in this instance is located beyond the state, as governmentality does not confine political activity to central executive activities or formal law-making bodies (Marinetto 2003:623). In the instance of PPPs, power assumes some degree of reciprocity, sublimating oppositional forces through "persuasion", "incentives" and "education" with the aim of earning consent.

A logical extension of Foucault's notion of governmentality to the individual is the introduction of the notion of bio-power, which can include environmental public services such as water, electricity and garbage collection. Foucault contrasts the sovereign power of death with modern bio-power, i.e. the power to foster life and care of populations. The enactment of "bio-power" is clearly seen in the everyday functions of municipal managers who face the twin challenge of producing not only bio-power (public health) but also obedient and responsive citizens. Foucault's idea of routinized regulation, surveillance and internalized forms of self-policing communities is particularly relevant in the South African municipal services context where local authorities are turning to self-managed consumers and technological solutions, such as prepaid water and electricity meters.

Within these partnerships, the social obligations for providing essential services to those who are too poor to pay is shifted away from the state to the "sovereign customer". In following this logic, the state or external provider avoids the political ramifications of disconnecting households that are too poor to pay, by simply giving them the "freedom" to self-disconnect through the introduction of pre-paid meters. The statistical visibility of neglecting the poor, i.e. municipal records that trace the total number of households that were disconnected because of non-payment, suddenly become invisible. The disappearance of this critical information handicaps the ability of the urban manager to understand, let alone monitor, the impacts of these tactics of coercion to pay on the poor. At a wider theoretical level, South Africa provides a test case for understanding governmentality and citizen compliance, or lack thereof within the field of political ecology.

In this chapter, we first examine the civil society/state relations by looking at the tensions involved in bringing populations under formal and routinized control. The control of the state is deepened by extending infrastructure like water to "unruly" populations. This mode of delivery can elicit an unruly civic response such as struggling township populations using strategies of "exit" and disengagement from the state—by seizing illegal access, sabotage or disregarding and "misunderstanding rules" (De Certeau 1984). This is a key element that shapes the modalities of access to municipal resources in South African townships. This tension in access to essential services is particularly strong in South Africa because people who have fought so long for freedom are being anointed with the regal title of "customer", along with its payment responsibilities, before having yet been granted the fruits of social citizenship.

Second, we have chosen South Africa as a country for a case study because its transition to democracy offers an important opportunity to see how the cooperation and conflict between a ruling regime and new private and quasi-market institutions of provision promoted by transnational capital are worked through within a framework of "market politics" (Leys 2001) and attempts to present nature in the mode of capital (Escobar 1995:54-55; Bellamy-Foster 2002). Very few recent accounts of South Africa's transition at the local level of politics have addressed this issue since it is taken for granted that the state has "progressive and pro-poor" policies and that in a context of limited financial resources and weak capacity can only incrementally improve the conditions of the "poor" (Beal etal. 2002; Tomlinson in Harrison etal. 2003).

Third, we have chosen the water sector to illustrate how the state's efforts to promote private sector participation can distance it from the populations it services. The rhetoric of self-managing customers, ecological scarcity and responsible consumption of water services by the poor has played a key role in public campaigns in schools and township communities for treating water as a scarce commodity. The commodification of urban and welfare services, as Dean argues, "undermines people's sense of obligation as citizens of a state, has encouraged illegality and economic insecurity. Struggling to make ends meet has produced a sense of betrayal and 'depleted concepts of citizenship'" (Dean 1999:58-59). It also promotes a supra-historical, reified conception of "nature", denying the social production of nature and new natures on the one hand and the social power relationships that infuse such transformations on the other (Harvey 1996; Swyngedouw 1999:98).

This chapter highlights these tensions through two examples of water partnerships in South African secondary cities, i.e. small towns that have rapidly sprawled through rural-urban migration, where the local authority in each case was constitutionally mandated to address the issue of equity by improving the quality of water services to previously disenfranchized communities.

We examine the triangular power dynamics amongst the state, service provider and service user in a long-term water concession and in the second case, a management contract. The first example highlights the country's first water concession in Nelspruit and the reasons for its failure. In Nelspruit, the national government could not be seen to be losing its most significant pilot for foreign investment in the water sector and hence it provided financial support to the company while councillors sought maximum distance between the company and itself (blame shifting). The second example of a Suez-led management contract in Fort Beaufort illustrates how the state's lack of understanding of the rigours of cost recovery and its political costs when it signed the contract, led to the demise of service delivery for low-income service users. Their growing discontent and nonpayment for water services, combined with the council's inability to manage its own financial debts to the company, led to a premature collapse of the contract.

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