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The kuils river multiple: Versions of an urban river on Theedge of Cape Town, South Africa

This thesis explores how diverse ways of knowing and being with the Kuils River, located in Cape Town, South Africa, are shaped and in turn shape the river. The management of water (in pipes and rivers) and the development of water infrastructure are deeply rooted in societal development agendas that, over time, have been embedded in discourses of empire, economic growth, state formation, sustainability and technological efficiency. When river management is informed by different agendas, the practice of management then differs across different levels of governance, research and communities, and multiple meanings of different forms of human-water relationships emerge. This study examines how the resulting tangle of meanings impacts river management practices in Cape Town, and in turn shape the well-being of people and more-than-human communities living in and with the river.
Environmental management and protection is often understood as a singular, unified, objective practice but is enacted differently according to context; it varies by discipline and plays out differently across municipal interventions and service delivery. Based on roughly three years of ethnographic fieldwork in the Kuils River catchment area and its associated landscapes and bodies of water, this thesis explores how lives, politics, technology and environment are impacted by river management practices in Cape Town and how these produce different versions of the river, which in turn shape the everyday of the Kuils and how it is managed. Specific research questions include: What are the diverse ways of knowing and relating to the Kuils River? How are these diverse ways of knowing and relating enacted? How does this shape river and capital flows, governance and the well-being of multispecies communities? I respond to these questions by engaging with current debates in environmental humanities, science and technology studies (STS) and cultural and environmental anthropology. Using Annemarie Mol’s The Body Multiple (2002) as a matrix through which to explore ‘the river multiple’, the study engages with historical and techno-political conceptions of managing urban rivers to consider environmental well-being and justice in the context of climate change. In focusing on the interactions of residents living along the river, on the government officials in charge of managing the Kuils River and its associated water bodies and on the flow
The Kuils River Multiple | Nikiwe Solomon of the river itself, this thesis foregrounds differing meanings of ‘environment’ and their management and how these versions limit the achievement of urban and peri-urban wellbeing. This thesis explores divergent experiences of the managed Kuils River (including those of people and of the water body) to demonstrate that particular logics have geological effects that will be experienced far into the future. The study approaches the river’s flows, banks and infrastructures as an archive of deep histories and imagined futures, a paradox of technological interventions and an evidentiary of neoliberal logics. Exploring the ways in which the biological, social, geological, technological, political and economic intersect, I describe how the Kuils River has become incorporated into the City of Cape Town’s imagination of water futures.

Full Name
Dr Solomon Nikiwe
Programme