Riots linked to public anger over poor government services and poverty in South Africa hit a record high in 2018, data showed, a sign ananalyst said the ruling African National Congress should not ignore ahead of elections next year.
President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to improve governance and kick-start an economy mired in recession, but high levels of public discontent reflect the challenge the ANC faces as it tries to reform Africa’s most industrialised economy.
Dubbed “service delivery protests,” the number of incidents totalled 198 by the end of September, data from research organisation Municipal IQ showed, surpassing the previous record for a full calendar year of 191 in 2014, when Jacob Zuma was in power.
The riots typically see protesters blocking roads with burning debris, hurling rocks or bricks and clashing with police. Services they demand include housing, running water, tarred roads and other amenities poor black people remain without more than two decades after the end of apartheid.
The riots were spread between areas governed both by the ANC and by the opposition suggesting it was hard to draw a direct link between them and the popularity of the ruling party.
The highest number of incidents – almost 20% – was recorded in Eastern Cape, a traditional stronghold of the ANC, in power since the end of apartheid in 1994.
That was followed by 17% in Gauteng, which includes financial hub Johannesburg and administrative capital Pretoria – both run by the opposition Democratic Alliance.
“Whether or not these protests signal a shift in support for the ANC is another matter,” said Gary van Staden, a political analyst with NKC African Economics.
“The ANC would be foolish to ignore or dismiss this data, as it is a real indicator of discontent,” he said.
Kwa-Zulu Natal, another key ANC base and heartland of South Africa’s largest ethnic group the Zulus, accounted for 15% of protests so far in 2018.
The ANC and officials from the Co-operative Governance ministry, responsible for local government, were not immediately available for comment.