Economic growth, ecological modernization or environmental justice? Conflicting discourses in post-apartheid South Africa

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27 Citations (Scopus)


High hopes for a tough environmental policy, and for the relevant government departments taking on board environmentalist values and strategies, also quickly faded. In this article, three illustrative studies help to reveal how the ANC government has dealt with its disastrous environmental inheritance via high-profile infrastructure programs and projects. In particular, they allow us to consider some of the more obvious sites of conflicting interests and argumentation. We briefly consider competing analyses associated with ongoing development projects that are emblematic partly because of political debate associated with each, and partly because each has enormous ecological implications: firstly, how levels and financing systems of basic-needs infrastructure (typically for new housing projects and in situ shack-settlement upgrades, mainly oriented to water/sanitation and electricity) were chosen by the Departments of Constitutional Development and Water Affairs and Forestry from 1995-97, with an instrumentalist regard for ecological inequalities; secondly, at the local level, how choices over allocating natural resources between basic-needs infrastructure and large-scale economic infrastructure (namely, a proposed zinc smelter plus Industrial Development Zone in the country's fourth-largest city) reflect both low environmental priorities and the economic balance of forces; and thirdly, how a 1998 decision to speed up the cross-catchment transfer of water from Lesotho to the Johannesburg region will likely play itself out with respect to environmental concerns and urban water/sanitation services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-61
Number of pages29
JournalCapitalism, Nature, Socialism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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