Introduction

In this chapter, I argue that the flow of potable water in South Africa's second largest city embodies many of the tensions and contradictions typical of a crisis-prone accumulation process. Developing Swyngedouw's (2004) claim that we are currently witnessing a process of the transformation of local waters into global money, I show the muddled fashion in which this is currently taking place in Durban. My primary focus is on Umgeni Water, the bulk-supplier of water to the city. As a state-owned entity with an aggressive commercial subsidiary, Umgeni Water has found it difficult to survive in the competitive world of water provision. As a result, it has sought to prise open new markets within South Africa and further north in the African continent. The entity's most secure revenues, however, are to be found in Durban. Here, it has imposed large increases (frequently well above the rate of inflation) upon the bulk water tariffs charged to the city. In response, the city has clamped down on the non-payment of bills by local residents and, in the late 1990s, it embarked upon a process of disconnecting debtors with unprecedented aggression. By 2002, one thousand households were being disconnected on a daily basis within eThekwini Municipality1 for non-payment of bills (Macleod, personal interview, 26 March 2003; Bailey, personal interview, 5 November 2002). I frame these symptoms within David Harvey's writings on the spatio-temporal dynamics of capital accumulation (1982), work on the production of nature (Smith 1984), and more recent writings on urban political ecology (Swyngedouw and Heynen 2003). In particular, I focus on spatial and temporal fixes to Umgeni Water's financial woes and its apparent turn to the colonization of new resources formerly assumed to lie within a communal sphere. The latter may be understood as a process of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 2003). All these strategies have been turned to in an increasingly hasty fashion, as the bulk-water supplier seems to lurch from one problem to the next. Locally, they have been met by resistance within the municipal administration and at the community level.

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