Democracy's InfrastructureTechno-Politics and Protest after Apartheid

Democracy's InfrastructureTechno-Politics and Protest after Apartheid

Antina von Schnitzler

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780691170770

Publisher: Princeton University Press


In the past decade, South Africa's “miracle transition” has been interrupted by waves of protests in relation to basic services such as water and electricity. Less visibly, the postapartheid period has witnessed widespread illicit acts involving infrastructure, including the non-payment of service charges, the bypassing of metering devices, and illegal connections to services. This book shows how such administrative links to the state became a central political terrain during the antiapartheid struggle and how this terrain persists in the postapartheid present. Focusing on conflicts surrounding prepaid water meters, the book examines the techno-political forms through which democracy takes shape. It explores a controversial project to install prepaid water meters in Soweto—one of many efforts to curb the non-payment of service charges that began during the antiapartheid struggle—and traces how infrastructure, payment, and technical procedures become sites where citizenship is mediated and contested. The book follows engineers, utility officials, and local bureaucrats as they consider ways to prompt Sowetans to pay for water, and shows how local residents and activists wrestle with the constraints imposed by meters. This investigation of democracy from the perspective of infrastructure reframes the conventional story of South Africa's transition, foregrounding the less visible remainders of apartheid and challenging readers to think in more material terms about citizenship and activism in the postcolonial world. The book examines how seemingly mundane technological domains become charged territory for struggles over South Africa's political transformation.