Water is the burning issue: Fluid politics and the contradictions of local government

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Seminar Date
August 11, 2010
A revised and extended version of this paper will be incorporated into a book of essays provisionally entitled Replacing the Nation that will bring together my efforts to comprehend the turbulent forces at play in South Africa since 2000/1. The paper starts by plunging its readers into the vicissitudes of struggles over water in Ladysmith/Emnambithi and Newcastle, two former white towns and surrounding predominantly black settlements where I have been engaged in research since 1994. I use the contentious politics of water in these settings that remain heavily racialized as a lens through which to focus on the contradictions of local government. In Disabling Globalization (2002) I identified local government as a key site of contradictions in the first phase of the post-apartheid order (1994-2000). Since 2001 the ANC national government has engaged in an intensifying battle to bring unruly local governments under control and contain popular discontent. Here I draw on dynamics in Ladysmith and Newcastle to reflect on unfolding contradictions more broadly, and suggest how official measures aimed at disciplining and damping down discontent might actually be feeding into it.
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