Social policy, welfare in urban services in South Africa : a case study of free basic water, indigency and citizenship in Eastwood, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal (2005-2007)

Smith, J. A. (2009) Social policy, welfare in urban services in South Africa : a case study of free basic water, indigency and citizenship in Eastwood, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal (2005-2007). PhD thesis, Rhodes University.


Text (Appendices)



This is an in-depth case study of urban water services to poor households and their interactions with local state power in the community of Eastwood, Pietermaritzburg, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, for the period 2005-2007. It draws especially on the experiences of poor women, exploring the conceptions and implications of the movement of municipal services into the realm of welfare-based urban service concessions. It interrogates what value municipal services, framed in the language and form of welfare but within a commodification milieu and in the context of shifting citizen-state relations offer the state apparatus and how such free basic service offerings are experienced by poor households at the level of domestic, social and economic functioning. The study adopts a fluid mixed-methodological approach to optimise exploration and interpretation. It argues that the interface of state service delivery and citizens is fraught with contradictions: core to this is the nature of state ‘help.’ Free basic water encompassed in the social wage did not improve the lives of poor households; instead it eroded original water access. Free basic water stole women’s time spent on domestic activities; compromised appropriate water requirements, exacerbated service affordability problems and negatively affected household functioning. Poor households experienced the government’s policy of free basic services as containment and punishment for being poor. The Indigent Policy activated the state’s surveillance, disciplinary and control apparatus. In the absence of effective national regulation over municipalities and with financial shortfalls, street-level bureaucrats manipulated social policies to further municipal cost recovery goals and subjugate poor households. Social control and cheap governance were in symmetry. Citizens, desperate for relief, approached the state. Poor households were pushed into downgraded service packages or mercilessly pursued by municipally outsourced private debt collectors and disconnection companies. Municipalities competing for investments brought about by favourable credit ratings abandoned the humanity of their citizens. Such re-prioritisation of values had profound implications for governance and public trust. Citizens were jettisoned to the outskirts of municipal governance, resulting in a distinct confusion and anger towards the local state – and with it, major uncertainties regarding future stability, redistribution and equity.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Water services; free basic water; indigency; social wage; municipal; welfare; state and citizenship
Subjects:A General Works > AZ History of Scholarship The Humanities
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Divisions:Research Institutes and Units > Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER)
Supervisors:Ruiters, G. (Prof.)
ID Code:1578
Deposited By: Nicolene Mvinjelwa
Deposited On:05 Mar 2010 14:12
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:20
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