The cost of belonging: exploring class and citizenship in Soweto’s water war
More than a decade since the dawn of democracy, South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. Civil and political citizenship may have – rhetorically at least – reduced the stark racial inequality in the relationship between citizen and state evident under apartheid. Some authors suggest a positive correlation between social citizenship and social equality. However, in post-apartheid South Africa, deep socioeconomic inequalities continue to mar the democratic content of society. Although rights to welfare and social services are nominally in place and are enshrined in the constitution, scores of poor, black South Africans are unable to claim social citizenship, precisely as a result of their class position. Using, as a lens, community struggles in Soweto against the commodification of water, this article seeks to explore the relationship between citizenship and class. It does this by addressing the relationship between the state and its citizens within the context of service delivery, paying particular attention to the impact of prepaid water meters and to the strategies that were employed by community movements in Soweto’s ‘water war’. The key argument is that under the system of capitalism, class inequality will persist regardless of the extent of citizenship.