Inequalities in water access in Cape Town laid bare in new book

A new book by Dr Minga Mbweck Kongo examines the inequalities in water access in Cape Town. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

A new book by Dr Minga Mbweck Kongo examines the inequalities in water access in Cape Town. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Published Jul 9, 2024


As many parts of South Africa struggle with water problems, a new book has explored the impact of a lack of water on various aspects of life, including medical, ecological, spiritual and political, in the informal settlements in Khayelitsha.

Asinamanzi: Fluid Realities – Exploring South Africa’s Water Crisis and Social Dynamics by Dr Minga Mbweck Kongo, an anthropologist affiliated with the Institute for Humanities in Africa (Huma) at UCT, examines the inequalities in water access in Cape Town.

It highlights the inequitable development patterns and the strategies residents deploy to cope with inadequate water access.

Kongo is also affiliated with the Centre for African Studies at UCT, a guest lecturer at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences.

Using incompleteness and conviviality as a framework, the book delves into the “subjectivities created by the lack of water and its impact on various aspects of life”.

South Africa is confronted with a quadruple threat of water scarcity, energy depletion, inflation and unemployment, leaving politicians unsure of where to begin in minimising the damage.

Kongo explained: “The book demonstrates the complex relationships and intricacies of water and how humans think about, relate to, and respond to water, particularly when it is lacking.

“Overall, it provides a comprehensive analysis of the complexities of water and its profound significance in different spheres of human life.”

“I wrote this book to explain the subjectivities caused by water challenges in South Africa, offer an alternative way of writing about informal settlements, and understand how people excluded from basic service delivery cope with water access.”

He said the book’s, “appositeness will ring a bell in many marginalised societies in South Africa and Africa and remind policymakers, politicians and city planners of the overriding need to find more equitable and efficient ways to distribute water regardless of social status or residential codes”.

“The government should invest in water infrastructure, maintain the basic infrastructure at the local government level, employ people with the capacity and relevant skills, reinforce existing legislation and policy, and be accountable,” added Kongo.

Associate Professor Divine Fuh, director of Huma, said Asinamanzi is a raw book about the impact that a lack of piped water has on people living in informal settlements in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

“It describes a world of ‘liquid sh*t’ that assaults the senses and erodes the dignity and relationships of people living in it.

“Amid this ‘incomplete’ existence, residents bravely struggle to establish a ‘convivial’ social life.”

Ilana van Wyk, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Stellenbosch University, added: “Asinamanzi is about the daily realities of living with water scarcity and raw sewage running through streets and houses.

“The book examines the social, cultural, religious and health dimensions of water, and provides rich ethnographic insights into what it means to strive to live with dignity in settings characterised by the broken infrastructures of everyday life.”

Cape Times