Service Delivery Protests in Municipalities

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Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs

20 November 2007
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


20 November 2007

Mr S Tsenoli (ANC)

Documents handed out:
SALGA presentation on Current Wave of Protests in Municipalities 20 November 2007
University of Free State Centre for Development Support presentation on Conflict in South African Cities: An Analysis of Service –Related Unrest
DPLG Preliminary Overview of Service Delivery-Related Protests

Audio recording of meeting

The SALGA, the University of Free State Centre for Development Support and the Department briefed the Committee on the municipal protests that had taken place due to deficient service delivery. Members were interested in the reasons underlying the protests and were given insight into various factors that were contributory. The research presented to the Committee was in the form of case studies of certain municipalities. The Committee was also interested in the efforts of SALGA and the Department in dealing with the issue.

South African Local Government Association (SALGA) on protests in municipalities
The Chairman of SALGA Mr Amos Masondo gave a brief introduction on the protests and the issues underlying it, that is, genuine service delivery weaknesses and the complexities of cross boundary interactions.

Mr Xolani George conducted the actual briefing. He pointed out that protests had initially broken out in 2004 in the Free State and the North West Provinces. Protests had however intensified in the run up to and post March 2006 local government elections. Protests had become violent and had resulted in criminal activities taking place. Poor governance, poor service delivery, poor communication and lack of financial management were some of the reasons for the protests.

Mr George continued with a synopsis of the municipal unrests in the various provinces. He did this by identifying the municipality and the issue of concern associated with it. Mr George however made the point that even though protests were taking place, delivery on basic services had significantly increased since 1995. A breakdown of figures was presented. Mr George said that the media had also covered the negative developments in local government irresponsibly and hardly any positive coverage had been given. SALGA proposed inculcating responsible use of legitimate processes and institutions for grievances as well as building partnerships with community leaders. SALGA as part of its five-year strategic plan wished to establish a Governance Support Unit to assist municipalities that have chronic governance problems. SALGA had also raised concerns and made specific proposals as part of its comments on the Policy Review Process, specifically around the powers and functions of municipalities.

Mr S Mshudulu (ANC) said that most of the protests were led by agitators. Engagement with organized political structures was needed. Mr Mshudulu stated that he would have liked to have more clarity on the political reasons behind the unrest.

Mr Masondo said that it was tempting to go after agitators. He felt that it was not worth the effort to go after agitators as their numbers were small and they had no power in the broader scheme of things.

Mr M Swathe (DA) stated that most of the protesters complained that they were not being looked after by municipalities. There was also a lack of communication. He asked what SALGA had done to address these issues.

Mr Masondo said that service delivery and development should be concentrated on.

Mr R Sonto (ANC) addressed all the presenters and asked what plan was in place to curb the protests throughout South Africa.

Mr Masondo replied that SALGA would focus on grappling with the issues and would assist municipalities in trying to deal with them.

An ANC committee member asked what was being done about ward committees.

The Chair stated that there were both formal and informal structures for public participation. He noted that the political reasons behind the protests were understood. Problems with service delivery needed to be addressed. He felt that SALGA’s public relations were not what they ought to be and an adverse public profile impacts on issues. There were complaints about the speed and quality of responsiveness. The public had a legitimate right to complain if service delivery was lacking.

Mr Masondo stated that SALGA was a quasi- governmental organization. SALGA considered itself to be a learning organization and not a know-it-all. It was necessary to identify a single common reason behind the protests. It would help towards finding a solution. The issue was considered to be a complex one. Mr Masondo agreed that protesting was part of a normal democratic process but noted that it should be done within parameters.

Mr Elroy Africa,
Deputy Director General: Governance and Development, DPLG, said that the Department had adopted the Batho Pele principles to improve responsiveness but had only recently tried to introduce it in a structured manner. He said that he would report back to the Committee on how well Batho Pele was doing.

University of Free State Centre for Development Support briefing
Dr Zacheus Matebesi, Co-facilitator: Centre for Development Support, presented research on the municipal protests and the reasons that underlie it. He noted that the protests had been more acute in the Free State and the North West. The research had covered four municipalities: Phumelela, Khutsong, Phomolong and Nelson Mandela Bay. Poor governance, poor communication, ineffective client interface, and ineffective management were some of the reasons for the protests. Housing administration and management was also one of the key concerns of residents. Political infighting and struggles between local factions were some of the political reasons underlying protest action. Services and the cost thereof was another gripe by residents.

Dr Matebesi said that the impact of the protests had been great. Damage to infrastructure had taken place and there had been a decline in service payments. The impact on the economy as a whole was great and even education had been seriously interrupted in the affected areas. Enhancing financial management systems, improving technical operations and maintenance as well as implementing efficient client interface and complaints management systems were some of the recommendations made. Early warning signs include high levels of non-payment and municipal cash flow problems as well as continual complaints about general service delivery and housing issues.

Mr D Kekana (ANC) asked whether the research had confirmed what SALGA had said or was anything new discovered.

Ms M Gumede (ANC) addressed all the presenters and said that she was concerned about housing allocations and the way waiting lists were managed.

Dr Matebesi said that if municipalities had done what they should have housing allocations should not have been an issue.

Mr Masondo explained that sometimes emergencies arise where municipalities were not able to stick to housing waiting lists in making housing allocations such as floods and fires. Sometimes people needed to be housed as a matter of priority.

Mr Mshudulu asked if the public understood what government was doing from local up to national levels. Was there a problem with governmental institutional systems or structures? He asked whether there was a lack of communication.

Mr Swathe referred to the lack of council meetings and the issues around ward committees and asked what the problems were.

Dr Matebesi stated that in one instance the Mayor and the Municipal Manager did not get along and hence no council meetings took place. He also stated that people did not always attend ward committee meetings.

Mr Tsenoli referred to the presentation and asked what was meant by rethinking development in small communities.

The Chair noted that communication was an imperative and that communities should be informed of projects taking place. He asked what had emerged from the assessment of the role of the media.

Dr Matebesi said that there needed to be an understanding of local migration patterns into small towns. If a great deal of in migration takes place, it puts pressure on the town’s resources and it affects service delivery. He said that in all four areas assessed structures and procedures were in place, the only thing lacking was accountability. It was not always about service delivery. Sometimes people just wanted to be heard. On the media, he said that the media was a business after all and “whatever sold newspapers goes”.

Department’s preliminary overview of service delivery protests
The Department’s delegation comprised of Mr Elroy Africa, Mr Chris Du Plessis and Mr William Rampele. Mr Africa presented the Department’s preliminary overview of service delivery related protests. He noted that he did not wish to go into too much detail as much of the material had been covered in the SALGA presentation. The Committee was given a background on the governance framework and an overview of service delivery protests in the affected provinces for the years 2004 until 2007.

Mr Africa said that the preliminary analysis showed that no comprehensive research existed on service delivery related protests. There was however focused, thematic case study research that had been undertaken. Amongst those mentioned was the research done by Dr Matebesi from the University of Free State. The Committee was given insight into some of the emerging views of the case study research. The causes or factors influencing protests outlined in the presentation were more or less the same as those given by previous presenters.

Mr Africa presented figures on service delivery progress. He set out the legislative environment for communication and accountability [Clause 18 of the Municipal Systems Act 2000] and the policy and regulatory framework for community participation [White Paper on Local Government (1998) and Clause 16 of the Municipal Systems Act]. Mr Africa said that the current policy review of the White Paper would reflect on lessons learnt from practice. Ongoing analysis of local protests and various research in addition to continued close collaboration and support to provinces on addressing the key causes underlying the protests, were amongst the areas of focus of the Department.

Mr Swathe noted that in some of the municipality councilors were also full time teachers. He asked how the Department and SALGA ensured that they did their work as councilors.

Mr Africa replied that the Department had not made an assessment of teachers who were also serving as councilors. He did state that these teachers were only serving as part-time councilors.

Mr Mshudulu asked how challenges were to be addressed.

Mr Africa replied that a specific unit dealing with the protests had not been put in place but that the Department had made clear interventions on dealing with the protests. The Department had taken steps to deal with the issue.

Ms P Bhengu (ANC) said that most of the municipalities had under-spent their budgets and consequently it impacted upon service delivery. She asked what steps DPLG was going to take.

Mr Africa replied that under-spending by municipalities was a contributory factor to the protests.

The Chair said that there was a need for a plan of action. The Department and SALGA needed to communicate with each other. He asked the Department to speak about early warning signs.

Mr Africa referred to the University of Free State presentation in which early warning signs were mentioned. He said that the Department needed to be proactive and take steps to strengthen municipalities so that they could spend more and be more accountable. The Department had noted certain normative conclusions that it did not necessarily agree with. Some of the conclusions spoke about service delivery being the new struggle. Comments had also been made that there was a crisis of legitimacy. The Department disagreed with these statements.

Mr Africa suggested that engagement take place. In the Department’s view a number of questions remained unanswered. Much of the research had identified the Free State and the North West as hot spots for protests. Mr Africa said that the research did not give an indication as to why this was so. He further pointed out that the research had not stated why protests were violent and why public infrastructure had been destroyed. He concluded by stating that some issues were not coming to the fore in the research.

The meeting was adjourned.


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