Service delivery protests set for new highs this election year

According to Municipal IQ, there is a unusually high number of protests in this election year, which could be attributed to the rise of opposition parties in marginalised communities. (Fredrik Lerneryd, M&G)

According to Municipal IQ, there is a unusually high number of protests in this election year, which could be attributed to the rise of opposition parties in marginalised communities. (Fredrik Lerneryd, M&G)

If service delivery protests continue to happen at the same rate that they have in the past four months, 2016 will realise a new peak for such action. 

Municipal IQ, a specialised local government data and intelligence organisation that collects data on service delivery protests staged against municipalities, said the increase in the number of demonstrations are worrisome particularly in an election year when, typically, they drop off. 

Karen Heese, an economist at Municipal IQ, said: “It is worrying to see service delivery protests increase before elections. In previous election years, we actually registered protests dropping off, with electioneering appearing to promote better community engagement. Such engagement bolstered mechanisms for dispute resolution — proactive service delivery responses could still reverse the upward trajectory of protests seen so far.”

Up until April 30 this year, Municipal IQ recorded 70 such demonstrations. If the rate of service delivery protests was sustained at the same rate for the rest of the year, it would reach a record peak of 210, compared with 164 in 2015 and 191 (the highest so far) in 2014.

In the previous municipal election year, 2011, service delivery protests were subdued at 82 compared with the two years before and the years that have since followed. 

In the first four months of 2016, Gauteng experienced the highest proportion (26%) of service delivery protests, followed closely by the Eastern Cape (24%). Kevin Allan, managing director of Municipal IQ, says: “Many of these protests have taken place in informal settlements and underdeveloped areas where service delivery remains a major challenge.” 

The Free State experienced only 1% of such protests this year to date, followed by Northern Cape (4%), Limpopo (6%), North West (7%), Mpumalanga (9%), Western Cape (11%) and KwaZulu-Natal (12%).

Municipal IQ noted the data did not include protests directed primarily against councillor candidates, which it considers a political issue, or those related to demarcation, a national matter, as seen in Vuwani in Limpopo, where about 24 schools have been set alight by residents demonstrating against the municipal demarcation board’s decision to merge Vuwani into the new Malamulele municipality. The data also excludes protest action related to industrial relations and university protests. 

Heese adds that the unusually high number of protests in an election year “possibly speaks to a growing role of opposition parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters in marginalised communities raising issues of underdevelopment and marginalisation”. 

In some instances, voter registration for local government elections has been disrupted by demonstrations.

Local government elections are scheduled to take place on August 3. The Independent Electoral Commission is seeking leave to appeal a ruling that it provide the addresses of registered voters, arguing that it would prevent the municipal elections from going ahead.

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen. Read more from Lisa Steyn


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