Conceptualizing Sustainability: the Case of Johannesburg and Water
Boshoff, Brian Charles
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Johannesburg, South Africa has stated ambitions of becoming a “sustainable city” and a “world-class African city.” Many factors may contribute to the realization of these aims. One is a “sustainable” water supply, since water is fundamental to life and to economic activity. But South Africa (SA) is a “water-stressed” country, indeed, globally, it is one of the twenty most water-deficient countries and Gauteng province (where Johannesburg is located) may run out of water by 2015. Many demand and supply factors conspire to affect adversely the “sustainability” of water and any “sustainable development” trajectory in SA. Accordingly, I survey the literature on “sustainability” and “sustainable development” (S/SD) to see if it might offer some way out of SA's water dilemma. This is a vast, complex and contested body of literature, but overall, S/SD appears to be “common cause.“ But this does not necessarily mean that S/SD concepts are either well understood or integrated, especially as applied to the water sector in SA. I suggest that a comprehensive understanding of what might be contemplated by S/SD concepts as regards the water sector is lacking, so I seek to determine how the concepts of S/SD “play out,“ how they can be translated and understood, and what import selected S/SD concepts may have in terms of the water sector in Johannesburg. This is accomplished by means of a broad literature review and by conducting interviews with mostly senior personnel in Johannesburg who are responsible for water and sustainability public policy and issues in Johannesburg and in SA. This research describes several major ramifications of water and sustainability in Johannesburg and contributes empirically, by examining the intersection of S/SD, water and Johannesburg and theoretically, by developing a heuristic model (HM), so that understanding of S/SD (especially as it relates to water in SA) can be crystallized and provide a platform for further debate, contestation, interpretation and implementation. The lexicon emerging from the HM will help leaders to balance the competing claims and tensions during conception and implementation of relevant water policies. The model depicts the interplay of sustainability premises with actual conditions in an important developing nation.
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