In September 1999, South Africa’s first public-public partnership (PUP) for water service delivery was signed in Odi district, North West province. The PUP brought together parastatal Rand Water Board, the municipalities of Winterveld, Mabopane and a number of peri-urban areas under the Eastern District Councils. Under the agreement, Rand Water Board was to assist in building the capacity of the local authorities to operate and maintain the water service system. The duration of the partnership was to be three years, after which the municipalities were to take full responsibility for the system. Support for the PUP extended far beyond the signatories. The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) played an important role by bringing together its members and community structures to back the partnership. For SAMWU the PUP was seen as a model which would improve service delivery to historically disadvantaged communities while guaranteeing jobs for municipal workers. Hopes for the success of this initiative were buoyed by promises of financial support from various spheres of government. The municipalities’ stipend was intended to subsidise payment for citizens who were declared “indigent” and therefore unable to afford payment for water. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) also added to the funding of the PUP to help make up for some deficiencies of the water system. In late 1999 there was great optimism amongst all stakeholders that Odi would set a precedent for supplying effective water service to underdeveloped areas in South Africa. Yet, the intent of the PUP was that with reasonable levels of payment and an improved infrastructure a financially sustainable system could be established in three years. While payment rates in the townships of Mabopane and Winterveld have been adequate, in the peri urban areas only 2-4% of households are paid up. In some areas this has resulted in cutoffs and threats of legal action. In Klipgat, the entire community only receives water every other day as Odi Retail, Rand Water Board’s local outlet, pressures for cost recovery. To make matters worse, a ‘culture of non-payment’ has developed at the top - amongst local government officials. Contrary to their promises, the local authorities have not added a cent of their equitable share money to the coffers of the PUP. Moreover, they have failed to set up an indigent policy. Apart from the municipalities failing to honour their commitment, DWAF has also pulled back from its earlier enthusiastic support for the venture. At the end of 2000, the partnership stands on the brink of collapse. All in all, the precarious state of the Odi PUP raises the issue of whether the partnership has been ‘set up to fail’. For Rand Water and SAMWU, as well as advocates for the welfare of poor communities, a failure of Odi would be a blow to the notion of public sector delivery and free service ‘lifelines’ for the poor.