Is (in)access to infrastructure driven by physical delivery or weak governance? Power and knowledge asymmetries in Cape Town, South Africa
Despite widespread scholarly recognition that infrastructure delivery and consumption is as much a sociopolitical process as a technical-material product, global development agendas (e.g. United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals) continue to prioritise the universal provision of public infrastructure as a static transfer of physical goods/services without explicit recognition of their socio-political dimensions. This paper explores the everyday ways in which citizens negotiate public infrastructure delivery and access, situated in a global South context of extreme inequality and limited state capacity. Using a case study of two low-income settlements in Cape Town with differing infrastructure provision, we demonstrate how governance processes can undermine the physical delivery of infrastructure. While participatory governance remains a core policy mechanism to democratise service delivery, in practice the capacity of citizens to participate is affected by power and knowledge asymmetries that function both within and between communities and the state. These asymmetric power relations and knowledge flows contribute to clientelistic politics that not only limit citizen engagement in participatory governance, but actively undermine low-income urban dwellers' access to services that have been physically delivered and targeted to meet their needs. Framed by a case study of energy interventions, we conclude that widening access to public infrastructure requires significant investment in effective governance processes for low-income urban dwellers.