Making Time for the Kuils River Beyond Techno-Scientific Interventions. Environmental Lunchtime Discussion

In this talk, environmental anthropologist Dr. Nikiwe Solomon explores how particular assumptions built into the design of infrastructure, as well as the bureaucratic and techno-managerial approaches used to build said infrastructure, often take for granted the social consequences of infrastructure’s day-to-day (mal)functioning.

This image shows a man pointing towards manholes.

The images taken with a local farmer show him pointing at manholes where poorly treated effluent was diverted into a man-made canal dubbed by the locals as the “Kak River’. Source: Nikiwe Solomon.

The ‘Kak River’ water flows directly into the Kuils River where it is expected that the fresh water from the Kuils would dilute any harmful products of the effluent (Source: Nikiwe Solomon).

Based on roughly three years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Kuils River catchment area and its associated landscapes and bodies of water on the urban periphery of Cape Town, South Africa, this talk explores how lives, politics, technology and environment are impacted by water and waste infrastructure management practices in Cape Town. The talk is adapted from a paper contribution to an edited volume, “Contested Ecologies II: Africa’s Struggles with Neoliveral Environmentalism” where Solomon argues that although infrastructure can be valuable and even essential for addressing basic human needs, technical approaches are often limited, and those who produce them are generally blind to the power embedded in them. They are presented as neutral approaches to addressing societal problems, failing to also account for infrastructure's conceptual and material capacities. As such, in the current moment the Kuils River presents as a paradox of infrastructural management, where technical responses to sewage and waste disposal problems are often incommensurate with addressing histories of (un)settlement, controlling the movement of people and the environment, unequal service provision and environmental justice in the everyday at grassroots level. With the advent of democracy and the inclusion of the majority of the population in service delivery and a focus on shifting to more sustainable cities, the place and role of the Kuils River as a necessary extension of Cape Town's waste infrastructure must be rethought. Coupled with growing climate uncertainty and the effects of the severe Cape Town drought in 2016/2017, infrastructural planning strategies for the future must include how the river is managed and interacted with and how it shapes everyday practices.

About the presenter

Dr. Nikiwe Solomon is an environmental anthropologist working at the interface of science, technology, politics and urban river and water management. Her PhD dissertation research ‘The Kuils Multiple: An ethnography of an urban river in Cape Town’ explored the entanglement of the Kuils River with social, technical and political worlds in the context of urban planning in a time of climate change. Nikiwe has experience in consultancy and academic work, particularly focused on Green and alternative economies and water socio-techno-political worlds. Nikiwe is part of the Seed Box project, where she serves as a fellow in Feminist and Anticolonial Approaches to Environmental Humanities and Justice in the Global South with research focusing on flows – of currents (water and capital), toxics and cement.

About the event series

The OSEH Environmental Lunchtime Discussion series consists of short, 15 minute presentations by invited guests, followed by a discussion. We invite speakers from a wide variety of fields, both academic and beyond. The presentations are accessible and are aimed at anyone with an interest in environmental issues. All are welcome.

Tags: HF, OSEH, Environmental Humanities
Published Feb. 1, 2022 2:05 PM - Last modified Apr. 21, 2022 11:00 AM