/ 6 July 2007

Mufamadi: Protests legitimate where delivery is slow

Metsimaholo municipality in the Free State, where an angry mob of citizens killed an ANC councillor on Monday, ranks as the best performing municipality in the province according to service delivery indicators, yet 44% of the population still live below the poverty line.

Minister of Provincial and Local Government Sydney Mufamadi told the Mail & Guardian that this week’s manifestation of dissatisfaction was partly due to unrealistic expectations about service delivery timeframes created by the introduction of the new local government system in 2000. But he also said that where delivery was slow protests were legitimate.

‘The introduction of the new local government system democratised the expectations of the people, but it takes time to build local government and deliver on these promises,” he said. ‘Only once there are materially improved conditions on the ground will there be no need for protests. Impatience is legitimate where progress is decidedly slow”

Kevin Allen and Karen Heese of Municipal IQ, a web-based data and intelligence service that specialises in monitoring South Africa’s 283 municipalities, said Metsimaholo municipality is not only the best performing council in the Free State, but it also ranks very high nationally in terms of access to a minimum level of services, poverty level, vacancy rates in the municipality and financial governance. Metsimaholo is ranked 21 out of the country’s 231 local councils.

Allen, a former special adviser to Mufamadi, and Heese, an economist, will launch Municipal IQ in two weeks.

They gave the M&G access to some of their data, which combines a wide-range of socio-economic and financial information and provides the first comprehensive analysis of municipal government performance and the possible reasons behind the burgeoning protests.

Although Metsimaholo municipality outshines other municipalities, its picture is not that rosy: about 40% of households still have no access to refuse removal; only 31% of the population are educated above ‘elementary level” and up to 40% of the economically active population are unemployed, according to Municipal IQ.

The Metsimaholo killing appears to have been the result of a political turf war between a United Democratic Movement (UDM) councillor and the ANC, in which the UDM councillor was able to rally local residents by capitalising on the lack of delivery in the area.

‘Ordinary residents’ frustrations can be due to a variety of problems: the unavailability of infrastructure, particularly if other communities are seen to have access; the high price of services; the erratic provision of infrastructure; rudeness and shoddy treatment by front-end municipal staff; patronage networks that seem to benefit particular individuals or communities; and resentment at the sight of the rapid financial privileges enjoyed by councillors. Generally, a public protest is the result of a culmination of numerous frustrations, often building up over a long period of time,” wrote consultant Doreen Atkinson in the latest Human Sciences Research Council publication State of the Nation: South Africa 2007.

Mufamadi said he acknowledged that the reasons for the municipal protests were multi-pronged. ‘We need, at all times, to understand what is at the base of these protests because there is not one hegemonic reason for them,” he said.

But his department appears to have no monitoring and evaluation mechanism nor has it conducted any comparative analysis of the municipalities where delivery protests have happened in order to identify and manage possible trends. Mufamadi said his department relied on Project Consolidate to manage delivery protests. But Project Consolidate is government’s long-standing plan to identify and assist specifically the most impoverished municipalities, and the eruption in Metsimaholo demonstrates that it is not only the poorest municipalities that are affected by delivery protests.

Mufamadi said the only way to stem the protests was to improve communication between councillors and citizens through, for example, ward committees. However, since regular ward committee meetings became mandatory in 2000, they have been largely dysfunctional and dominated by political factionalism.

‘There is a limit to what we can do,” said Mufamadi. ‘It is up to the councillors, political parties and citizens themselves to mobilise the communities.”