The politics of decentralisation and donor funding in South Africa's rural water sector
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Decentralisation appeals to actors across the political spectrum and has become a cornerstone of development orthodoxy. Although the new South African government has adopted a range of policies that promote decentralisation, competing tendencies toward centralisation have become increasingly evident. This article examines how donors have supported decentralisation in South Africa, how they have affected the implementation of decentralisation policies, and what impact, if any, donors have had on the form of decentralisation. The implementation of decentralisation is considered in the context of the rural water sector, which has been a priority arena of decentralisation. Based on key informant interviews with 47 government, donor and NGO officials, we outline three donor-supported prograqmmes in Northern Province and KwaZulu-Natal. Our findings lead us to differentiate between community-oriented decentralisation, in practice they promote state-centric decentralisation. Not only does this reinforce the institutional bias of government, but it also undermines the original motivation and rationale for decentralisation. There are indications that some donors have begun to recognise this danger and are intervening to promote community-oriented decentralisation. However, given South Africa's structural realities, we conclude by questioning whether this is possible at the present historical juncture.