The South African state has been transformed since 1994, but not in the way that many people hoped or expected. In the 1990s and 2000s analyses – and protests – focused on the incompetency, or 'lack of capacity', of the state, its skewed priorities toward elite interests and its failure to deliver services adequately or equitably. Events in the 2010s have shifted our purview to a more insidious reality: the transformation of the state through its capture. The devastating impact of state capture on its institutions is becoming increasingly visible.
This article looks at how the first stage of state capture, or high level capture that corroded the ethos of governing, has cascaded through the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) through a second stage of capture. This stage undermines the operation of the DWS and its management and protection of water resources and provision of water services.
Through an analysis of primary data including Parliamentary reports and information from access to information (PAIA) requests, three features of state capture in DWS are examined: securing control over the public service and weakening of controls, centralising control over institutions, and 'shaking down' regulation. Its aim is not to identify individuals involved and how they benefit, but to examine how these features have exacerbated the dysfunctionality of DWS that began in the 2000s. Finally it concludes by considering opportunities for systemic reform.