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Policy implementation considerations for basic services: A South African urban sanitation case

L. Taing


The Republic of South Africa formulated numerous progressive laws, regulations and strategies from 1994 to 2008 to support the provision of free basic sanitation access to the poor by 2014. The State has yet to achieve this objective in urban areas – ostensibly due to the poor municipal execution of national policy. This paper challenges this viewpoint, as it ignores policy weaknesses and overlooks the influence of non-municipal actors in service delivery. An assessment of national policy and implementation in South Africa’s second largest city (Cape Town) indicated that irreconcilable differences between municipal officials, residents and advocates’ interpretations of broadly-framed national policy, as well as policy gaps specific to servicing informal settlements and providing shared sanitation, contributed to the municipality’s failure to achieve policy objectives. The actors’ differences and policy shortcomings necessitated municipal policy reformulation according to the ‘lived’ and ‘practical’ realities of servicing informal settlements. The findings suggest a disproportionate focus on turning national policy into practice – for this viewpoint misses how local actors’ perspectives and current practices can shape policy. Understanding, accepting and addressing the interplay between policymaking and implementation can contribute to more constructive means of effectively delivering sanitation in South Africa.

Keywords: lifeline tariffs, implementation science, public policy and administration, shared sanitation, informal settlements, service provision

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eISSN: 1816-7950
print ISSN: 0378-4738