Violent protests over service delivery in South Africa are likely to grow ahead of the elections scheduled for 2009, said an analyst, one of the authors of a new report on local governance.
"The split in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), between [former President] Thabo Mbeki and [party president Jacob] Zuma will feed into factionalism at the local government level, which is one of the main factors hampering delivery at the moment," said Benjy Mautjane, a coordinator at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA), a local think-tank.
Mbeki resigned his post as South Africa's president in September after the ANC's executive body, controlled by supporters of ANC president Jacob Zuma, made Mbeki's position untenable, putting Zuma in pole position as the ruling party's preferred presidential candidate in the 2009 elections.
"South Africa is highly politicised and there is a level of disgruntlement among the people which is manipulated by political factions, which then leads to protests and riots over delivery," said Mautjane, who, along with two other IDASA researchers, looked at the state of governance in 16 municipalities.
Local government is the only tier of government in South Africa where representatives are directly elected by the people, and serves as a credible measure of a political party's popular support.
|South Africa is highly politicised and there is a level of disgruntlement among the people which is manipulated by political factions, which then leads to protests and riots over delivery|
"South African citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with the quality and quantity of services provided by local government," said the IDASA study. "This is despite the fact that local government in South Africa has improved its service delivery substantively over the past ten years, at a pace and extent rarely seen anywhere in the world."
Since 2004 there have been protests, often violent, over the perceived slow pace of delivery of basic municipal services such as water, electricity and housing. Many analysts say the country's high unemployment rate has also fed into social unrest over delivery, and have even identified the recent xenophobic attacks as an extension of the service delivery protests.
According to the government's 'Labour Force Survey 2007', about a quarter of a workforce numbering nearly 17 million - 4.3 million in a population of 47.7 million - are officially unemployed; a further 3.5 million are classified as "discouraged work-seekers" or "unemployed persons who are available to work but who say that they are not actively looking for work".
Besides political manoeuvrings, there is a level of disconnectedness between the citizens and their municipalities, said Mautjane. "Citizens generally feel further removed from [local] government and from 'development', and increasingly show consumerist behaviour patterns, and demand more and better services on the one hand, while being less willing to contribute to local development through their own actions and initiatives on the other hand."
In 2004/05 alone there were 881 illegal demonstrations and 5,085 legal protests across 90 percent of municipalities, according to the Centre for Development and Enterprise, a South African think-tank focusing on development issues in relation to economic growth and democracy.
The IDASA study found that representatives were partly to blame. "Elected representatives must be more transparent about decision-making processes - including providing proper feedback to ward committees, communities and citizens who have complaints or proposals," said Mautjane.
During the course of their study, the researchers came across a municipality in Limpopo Province, in northern South Africa, where councillors provided regular feedback to their constituencies through a communication network. "It encourages communities to take initiatives and participate in the decision-making process," said Mautjane.
Councils should act more as facilitators and catalysts than as implementers, said the study, and "help citizens to solve their own problems and not necessarily solve their problems for them."