Abstract for: Modes of Failure of South African Local Government in the Water Services Sector

Water service delivery crises are increasingly prevalent in post-apartheid South Africa. This paper builds on earlier research into the challenges faced by local (municipal) government in the provision of water services, as demand grows and as infrastructure ages. The system dynamics modelling endeavour reported here was undertaken to clarify and explain the on-going socio-technical problems. Six interlinked ‘modes of failure’ were identified. These include the underinvestment in, and over-extension of, water supply infrastructure; the lack of pro-active infrastructure planning combined with the lack of systematic maintenance; the enforced ‘fire-fighting’ reaction of municipal staff to service delivery crises; and inadequate financial means, infrastructure capacity, and technical staffing capacity. These modes of failure resonated with the experiences of technical officials from the Sundays River Valley Municipality who had participated in the case study between 2011 and 2015. In addition, the model proved to be an effective tool in communicating the causes of local water services systems failure at national policy level.