Whose Knowledge, Whose Water, Whose Life: A case study of water governance and mining in Sekhukhune, South Africa
Since news about Day Zero in Cape Town captured public attention, water scarcity in South Africa has become a widely known problem. However, the country has been impacted by similar issues for decades. This is especially true for the Sekhukhune District Municipality, where the prominence of mining and poor water governance have negatively impacted waterscapes, limiting the availability and quality of water for local communities. In this study, political ecology is applied as a framework to observe the power dynamics among water governance stakeholders. Methods used include document analysis, semi-structured interviews and field observations. This research explores the evolution and implementation of water policies in South Africa before assessing the role of stakeholders in Sekhukhune’s water governance structures. It continues by discussing bulk water infrastructure and the provision of water services to local communities where the significant influence of mining companies is uncovered. Indeed, through major investments to infrastructure projects, mining companies secure continued access to water resources for their operations. Despite this, it becomes clear that many local communities, from those living next to large infrastructure projects to those living near mining operations, have not benefited from these investments and are currently contesting the lack of water services. This study also addresses how host communities around mining operations have been directly impacted by relocations, migrations and the loss of livelihoods, and the link this has had to the availability and quality of water. There have been significant obstacles for communities who have attempted to express their grievances in various ways. Specifically, there is some evidence to suggest there is collusion or corruption between government representatives, traditional leaders and mining companies that negatively affects communities. Ultimately, it is evident that the role of communities as stakeholders in water governance structures is undervalued. Despite this, some interesting success stories are highlighted that demonstrate how communities have developed synergies and strategies of their own to apply pressure, resulting in notable shifts in power structures.