Local waters hemispheric ambitions

Africa is a strategic market in which significant inroads are being made... In support of the African Renaissance and specifically the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD)...The organization now has sufficient expertise under its belt to increase its business in the area.

(Umgeni Water 2002:4, 12)

By 2002, Umgeni Water had signed a three-year management contract with the city of Port Harcourt in Nigeria. Although originally only establishing operations in the state capital of Port Harcourt, Umgeni was quite clear about its ambition to bid for the much larger Lagos contract (see Ikeh 2002). On top of this, it was "engaged in projects and/or responding to opportunities in Algeria, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi and Rwanda" (Umgeni Water 2002:12). It is in this regard that a proud South African Water Minister praised the organization for working "with other African countries in bringing sustainable water services to the continent, and in some way making the African Renaissance vision of President Thabo Mbeki a reality" (Kasrils 2000).

Bond (2004), amongst others, has situated both NEPAD and the African Renaissance vision of Mbeki within what he sees as a sub-imperial strategy on the part of the South African government. Certainly, in the case of Umgeni Water, its ventures northwards must be seen as part of a search for profitability, through the expansion of its operations territorially. For many within the company, the sense of providing services to less advantaged regions will also be a factor, but at the current juncture, profitability is more urgent. It is quite simply, in one manager's words, a question of the organization's survival.

The relations between Umgeni Water's northward expansion and South African support for the continent-wide agreement embodied in NEPAD should not be seen in unidirectional terms. The South African government did not lobby so vociferously for NEPAD merely to ensure domestic capital expand northwards. Nor did Umgeni Water simply respond to the new incentives opened up by the continent-wide agreement. Instead, I would argue, NEPAD and Umgeni's search for profitability overseas are mutually constitutive. Harvey's work on the spatio-temporal dynamics of capital accumulation is, again, helpful, in this regard. In expanding upon the ideas already discussed, Harvey argues that we can distinguish between what he terms the capitalist logic of imperialism and a territorial logic. Thus, " [t]he capitalistic (as opposed to territorial) logic of imperialism has, I argue, to be understood against this background of seeking out "spatio-temporal fixes" to the capital surplus problem" (Harvey 2003:89). He then continues by stating how he will "try to keep the dialectical relationship between the politics of state and empire on the one hand and the molecular movements of capital accumulation in space and time on the other, firmly at the centre of the argument" (ibid.). Thus, the barriers Umgeni Water comes up against in the accumulation process are shaped, to some extent, by state policy and the historically determined territorial logic. In seeking to overcome these barriers, individual capitals such as Umgeni Water can seek to challenge state policy. If successful, new conditions for accumulation are opened up and a new territorial strategy serves to shape the capitalist logic once more. Continually, in the case of Umgeni Water, we see such productive tensions shaping one another through their mutual interaction.

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