QRW is located in central Durban, a city where approximately 25% of the 3.75 million residents live in over 560 informal settlements (eThekwini Municipality, 2018, p.178). QRW has been settled for over 30 years, consists of approximately 1030 households and is divided into four sections (Sim et al., 2019). The land upon which QRW is located has multiple private and public owners, including the eThekwini Municipality and a private landlord (Sim et al., 2019). QRW is built on a 1:100-year floodplain straddling the Palmiet River, meaning it is considered a high-risk settlement and selected for relocation to state-sponsored housing (Mazeka et al., 2019). Indeed, in April 2019, the settlement suffered extensive flood-damage following significant flooding across Durban. QRW’s status as a deferred relocation project directly influences the type of WASH infrastructure provided in the community (Williams et al., 2019). The settlement has been part of the iQhaza Lethu Partnership Project funded by the European Union, a participatory incremental upgrading programme with the aim to mobilise communities to participate in upgrading and to develop cross-sectoral partnerships to improve service delivery and living conditions in informal settlement communities (eThekwini Municipality, 2019, see also Sim et al., 2019). However, permanent in situ upgrading remains unlikely right now due to the hazardous location of the settlement.
QRW contains several CABs, which are prefabricated containers, modified to meet acceptable engineering standards by incorporating ventilation and plumbing and are free to use (Roma et al., 2010b). They exist in female and male blocks, providing toilets (urinals for men), showers, hand wash and laundry basins, and one block is designed to serve 100 housing units, but in reality, each often serves up to 200 households (where the average household counts on average ‘5.5 people’) (Roma et al., 2010b, p. 2). Moreover, CABs should be within walking distance, approximately 150–200 m from the user’s shelter (Gounden, 2008). The EWS also employs a community member as the caretaker who supervises facilities and reports any faults to the unit (Roma et al., 2010b). The CABs programme supports the Department of Health in enabling the prevention of diseases through related interventions. For example, the 2000 cholera outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal was another catalyst for providing safe free water to informal settlement residents (Sutherland et al., 2014), and bolstered by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. The ablution blocks also serve as a meeting place for community members and a central space for community notices to be pinned due to the likelihood that all members use the facilities daily (Sim et al., 2019).
Different Ways of Seeing Infrastructure
The participants of this study stated that they have access to CABs, but the facilities’ access and use are undermined by low maintenance interlinked with challenges to women’s privacy and dignity. Regarding low maintenance, the QRW ‘facilities are broken and blocked all the time’ (Respondent 9), and water pipes leak (Respondent 1). Shower walls were covered with mucus from users cleaning their noses, and toilets often remained unflushed (Respondents 2, 8, 9 & 10). The presence of doors without working locks increases women’s fear of someone entering the bathroom, which impacts women’s feelings of dignity, considered essential by Respondent 3 ‘because the toilet is a private thing’. Additionally, despite being issued separate blocks by the EWS, men and women are often forced to share facilities when the facilities reserved for female users are broken (Respondent 1). In these circumstances, women regarded sanitation facilities as hygienically unsafe:
‘[We] have discovered that these facilities cause sickness to women. I have been in the clinic several times because of urine infection [...] My daughter [...] from Johannesburg used the facilities twice and became sick with the same infection. We are not safe using [these facilities] because we share the toilet with men.’ (Respondent 9)
Furthermore, access to the facilities varies according to temporality. Some caretakers lock the facilities at night, and some women appeared afraid to use facilities during the night-time due to safety concerns, tied to fears of sexual violence:
‘It is not safe to go there at night because it is dark and there is a rapist walking around at night. We feel not safe at night as women. Men’s experiences are different because the men do not fear to go to the toilet at night while women fear to go alone.’ (Respondent 12)
Women and men have different requirements regarding access to facilities. Women’s sanitation needs cannot be easily scheduled and are subject to additional biological imperatives that can arise at any time, such as menstruation (Gonsalves et al., 2015). These realities impact achieving gender equality and dignity embedded in South Africa’s Constitution. Existing infrastructure problems have repercussions for women regarding their everyday access to adequate and safe communal sanitation facilities. These serve to increase gendered inequalities and challenge their dignity, privacy and health. All of which can inhibit the realisation of rights and full citizenship. These negative consequences of policies are often unintended, and adverse outcomes cannot always be attributed to specific actors. Such passive outcomes are conceptualised by Rodger and O’Neill (2012, p.407) as passive infrastructural violence, which is distinct from active infrastructural violence, where there is the intentional physical exclusion of users, and relates rather to when the ‘socially harmful effects derive from infrastructure’s limitations and omissions rather than its direct consequences’. In QRW, increased fear of harassment and consequently restricted access to sanitation facilities at night is not a consequence intended by the EWS. Increased GBV is rather attributed to unequal gender relations and historical cultures of violence. Poor quality services similarly are a function of significant historical neglect and infrastructure failure. Such impacts directly affect the citizenship experience of women. Additional impacts on women’s use and experiences of CABs include crowding around these facilities due to high user numbers. Above, we noted that CABs were servicing far more residents than planned. Low capacity of facilities increases the time burden for CAB users often a function of, and further entrenching the challenges of, gendered roles:
‘[…] After you have finished washing you have to carry heavy washing to where you live. I have to fetch more than five buckets of water to bathe in the house. I hate doing laundry because I have to wait in the queue or wash in the house. That causes my back to become sore.’ (Respondent 9)
Overcrowding and subsequent waiting to use the facilities may further undermine community social cohesion and reveal internal inequalities and power relations. Respondent 6 illustrated this:
‘Some people end up fighting, but [the] quiet people are waiting [at] the washing place [and] have to wait until the queen [is] finished’.
This discourse of blaming others for the unavailability of facilities is prevalent and concerning. It includes accusing people with plumbing skills of stealing parts from the communal facilities (Respondent 6). Other participants accused the community more generally of not looking after the facilities, leaving them dirty and unusable for the next user (Respondent 8). Migrant residents from other African countries are blamed for creating ‘a mess, because they do not value these facilities’, evidencing potential xenophobic attitudes (Respondent 10). Therefore, limitations in infrastructure provision shape ideas of citizen-state relationship directly and can produce social tensions within the community.
State-citizen relations are shaped through the materiality and provision of everyday infrastructure. Most participants identified the municipality as the level of government responsible for providing sanitation services. Justifications included that the land belongs to the eThekwini Municipality (Respondent 1) and owing to the precedence of provision: ‘they chose to start providing these facilities and must continue satisfying the community’ (Respondent 3). The participants used clarification of their own roles to eschew practices of service provision: ‘We are not here for building our own toilets’; instead, they emphasised that they are living in the settlement to search for employment and to financially support their families living elsewhere (Respondent 10). The participants emphasised the positive impact of municipal infrastructure revealing how the municipality is perceived through the materiality of infrastructure:
‘We do trust the municipality because there are so many things that the municipality has provided. It is a good indication that our municipality cares about the people.’ (Respondent 4)
Some participants also recognised their responsibilities in maintaining the facilities and reporting any faults (Respondents 2 & 4).
The municipality situated itself as the developmental state, viewing sanitation as a ‘constitutional mandate’ (Municipality Representative, personal communication, 2019) in meeting the Department of Health’s targets, including the prevention of diseases that might spread to city level. In short, their delivery has specific aims. For example, the EWS Customer Service Charter (2019, n.p.) sets out that its mission is ‘to provide efficient, effective, affordable and sustainable water and sanitation services to the people of eThekwini in a customer-friendly manner’. Nevertheless, the EWS (2019) also outlines that users have responsibilities, including reporting leaks and illegal tampering to the municipality. In QRW, some participants were aware of these responsibilities, although some alleged that the government failed to respond consistently. These different perceptions of sanitation evidence that the relationship between state and citizen is conveyed differently through the infrastructure and is impacted by the everyday experience of the infrastructure. Some participants believe that the state cares about them, and most hold clear expectations regarding public infrastructure delivery. These expectations are, to some degree, recognised by the government and met through the provision of physical infrastructure. Although the gendering of these elements of the state-citizen relationship is not necessarily evident here, women’s differential dependence on sanitation facilities mediates their overarching engagement with the state. Furthermore, respondents differ between themselves in how they enter into a dialogue with the state and clarify their expectations, navigating their relationship through an infrastructure. This becomes evident when looking at their workarounds to access sanitation.
Women’s Sanitation Workarounds: Invited Participation and Incremental Infrastructure
When faced with inadequate infrastructure, the respondents reacted in different ways. Some sought active participation, aiming to draw attention to community matters and entering into a state-citizenship dialogue by participating in service delivery protests. Such protests are well documented across South Africa and highlight the state’s difficulty fulfilling its infrastructure-centric vision of development and citizenship (McFarlane & Silver, 2017a). Protests emerge for different reasons, including discontent, questions of development pace and issues of accountability and treatment of protesters (Mottiar & Bond, 2012). Protesters adopt different tactics (Mottiar & Bond, 2012), such as vandalism in this case. In QRW, some participants recalled protests for different services including housing, sanitation and electricity:
‘We did protest regarding [the delivery of] toilets, and the municipality provides us [with new toilets]. We were using the plastic toilet, and the community burned it. That time we walked to [Mwakondo 1] to use [their] toilet.’ (Respondent 6)
Another example of active participation is residents who seek to be part of legitimised spaces of citizen participation, which Cornwall, (2002) refers to as invited spaces, including the ward committee. eThekwini Municipality is divided into wards with ward councillors representing the residents living in this area. QRW is located in Ward 23, currently a Democratic Alliance ward (Sim et al., 2019). Prior to the local government elections in 2016, it was an African National Congress ward with members of both political parties being part of formal governance structures. QRW residents are politically ‘well organised’ and have ‘well established political structures’ including an area committee that meets regularly and manages various responsibilities, including water, health and employment (Sim et al., 2019, p.8). QRW residents are represented on the local ward committee, a formal relationship between the local councillor and the broader community in Ward 23 and the eThekwini Municipality (Sim et al., 2019). The QRW community also has a strong working relationship with other institutions, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal, to identify their needs and negotiate with the government (see Sim et al., 2019). The two examples of active participation also display citizens’ perceptions and relationship to the state because the residents yield and believe the state, with its power, will help—actively participating acknowledges this.
Participants are not always successful in establishing a dialogue. For example, protests may challenge the state and result in positive outcomes, but they can also disturb the infrastructure’s everyday functioning (McFarlane & Silver, 2017a). As a result of damages to sanitation infrastructure during protests, some residents of QRW had to utilise CABs in other areas of QRW, complicating their access further. Furthermore, while some participants were willing to be involved, in reality, formal structures to encourage meaningful and transformative participation are limited, undermining efforts to affect inclusion. Respondent 1 blamed the EWS for not involving the community, noting that they ‘just install it without consulting us about what we need.’ The feeling of not being able to participate in community decision compounds mistrust regarding the local ward committee, as concerns cannot be voiced (Respondents 1 & 3). Moreover, wider changes in political governance work to restrict everyday participation in community structures. Respondent 8 stated:
‘[The] old councillor was better than [the current] one because nothing has happened in this area and everything is quiet [since he has been elected]. If we call the community meeting, he is not coming and if we call him he’s not answering the calls’.
Both ways of participation form dialogue between the women and the state. Challenging the government on service provision makes residents visible to the state and draws more comprehensive attention to inequalities experienced by women using infrastructure provision as a platform for this. The opportunity for women to participate in sanitation delivery is the ability to demonstrate and claim rights and engage in meaningful dialogue with the state. South African policies such as the National Sanitation Policy (DWS, 2016) underline the need to engage women in particular in consulting programmes and policy implementation. Participation is also crucial to achieving the acceptance and sustainability of sanitation systems (Roma et al., 2010a). A lack of dialogue between users and state means that the citizen-state relationship remains one-sided. The state may deliver infrastructure but is likely to ignore critical challenges the users face due to their inability to express these, resulting in further socio-economic marginalisation.
Not everyone seeks active participation due to a variety of reasons. Inconvenient timings of activities are critical. For example, Respondent 3, an elderly participant, explained she is ‘not interested in any meeting [at night]’. Other respondents did not seem to be aware of any meetings happening or the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with the Municipality. Nevertheless, they produce and reuse infrastructure in the background to tend to their needs. One example is the illegal connection of water pipes. Respondent 5 stated that she was:
‘tired [of] fetching water from far away, and [she] decided to [hire a] plumber. [She] just bought the pipe, and he connected [it] from the tap to my house’.
Extending water services to the house reduces the physical and time burden as well as the risk of assault when fetching water at night or from afar. Such connections have also been observed by previous research conducted in QRW along with illegal connections of electricity wires (also known as izinyokanyoka) (Sim et al., 2019). In addition to altering existing infrastructure, female participants adopted a range of alternative solutions, most of which are gendered through their interconnections with women’s bodily requirements, their domestic labour practices or their gendered vulnerabilities. Respondent 7 chose to bathe in her house because she perceived the showers as unclean, and Respondent 9 reported to use buckets to carry water to their house to wash themselves or their children. Other residents use buckets at night to relieve themselves due to fear of using the shared facilities in the dark. They carry the waste to the facilities early the next day (Respondent 2). Using buckets is a form of incremental infrastructure, evidencing Simone’s, (2004) argument of humans as infrastructure. Here the physical labour (the carrying of water or human waste) performs the role of pipes.
Overall, several participants detailed the requirement and hope for additional facilities (Respondents 2, 8, 9 & 10). As such, the use of such alternatives is likely to continue as the sanitation backlog is significant. As of December 2017, the existing backlog of sanitation units across the city was about 138,570 units with a projected waiting period of 14–17 years (eThekwini Municipality, 2019). Through these practices, women become providers themselves and are less reliant on the state, shifting how they claim their citizenship rights and changing their relationship to the state. Nevertheless, the use of informal infrastructures or alternative methods to fulfil sanitation needs is paradoxical. On the one hand, creating informal structures fulfils participants’ needs and instils illegal connections to claim their citizenship rights. On the other hand, incremental infrastructures simultaneously limit their citizenship experience. These connections can be destroyed if discovered by government actors and overall do not guarantee a sustainable solution.
State Responses to Inadequate Infrastructure
The eThekwini Municipality recognises the issue of infrastructure maintenance, which can result in poor perceptions of the infrastructure and the state itself. The management component is crucial but difficult as there is no ‘one size fits all approach’, meaning that a maintenance system that works for one community does not necessarily work within other settlements (Municipality Representative, personal communication, 2019). Nevertheless, the state is working on new solutions to address significant backlogs. For example, it collaborates with the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on finding new innovative solutions to deliver sustainable infrastructure (Municipality Representative, personal communication, 2019). However, these solutions also have to account for broader social, economic and technical processes such as the residents’ aspirations to own a home. Respondents 9, for example, associated inadequate communal facilities with this unfulfilled housing right.
‘[The sanitation facilities] are very bad, we need proper houses. [...] people are not cleaning the area because they are staying in bad condition houses. They have to provide us with the proper houses. Once they change the houses, the current facilities would change. Our lives will change to stay in a clean and safe place.’ (Respondent 9)
In other words, access to basic services does not equate to their notions of adequate housing, therefore impacting on their citizenship expectations. Constraints on the government’s capacity to deliver reduces the feasibility of meeting this ideal and of enabling residents to be part of a modern infrastructural offer (Graham & Marvin, 2001) with desires for constant connection to the existing infrastructure network. The municipality faces the ‘dilemma to offer solutions that are economically and socially viable’ (Municipality Representative, personal communication, 2019). The dilemma is reflected in eThekwini Municipality’s (2011, para. 1) development policies which are both pro-poor and pro-growth, and its vision to ‘Enjoy the reputation of being Africa’s most liveable city, where all citizens live in harmony’ by 2030. It hopes to achieve this vision through ‘growing its economy’ and ‘meeting people’s needs’ (2011).
The progressive approach of the EWS is not to be overlooked. While the municipality provides incremental services, including CABs, this provision is affected by the status of QRW as a ‘deferred relocation project’ (Williams et al., 2019, p. 168). Despite its deferred settlement status, relocation of the settlement to government subsidy housing in the near future is unlikely. Being part of the iQhaza Lethu Partnership Project resulted in improvements to the settlement, including the incremental upgrading of services. Relocation would likely require movement to urban peripheries, a common location of state-subsidised housing as land is cheaper than centrally located land and therefore more economically viable for the government (Watson, 2009). Consequently, many QRW residents had refused relocations in 2009 and insisted on remaining at the settlement (Sim et al., 2019). As Respondent 9 stated:
‘QRW is near to the city, that is why [it is] easy for people who are looking for a job or studying’.
Relocation to new housing can have adverse consequences impacting access to education and employment. Meth et al., (2019, p.1068) note that relocations to state-sponsored housing settlements do not necessarily improve citizenship status, but often further marginalise residents, especially female beneficiaries. Infrastructure is a space where expectations from both state and citizen sides confront each other, and the relationship between both actors is shaped through this. The state recognises its duty to deliver basic sanitation needs to the citizens. However, it fails to meet everyone’s needs. An improvement can be made through infrastructure provision on a smaller scale through, for example, incremental measures or on a larger scale through, for instance, through the provision of complete housing units. Nevertheless, the state also needs to balance this with meeting other aims such as economic development and navigating the expectations of different stakeholders to meet a certain level of provision that satisfies.