Web-based data and intelligence service Municipal IQ is warning that service delivery protests in the country are increasing in volume and severity.
In an opinion published in the Business Day newspaper last week, the agency`s MD Kevin Allan and economist Karen Heese noted protests for the first half of this year already account for 13% of the major service delivery protests since 2004.
“If the trend continues, protests this year will come close to the 2005 peak.”
Commenting on protests this month at Diepsloot, a large low-income high-density suburb northwest of Johannesburg, Heese and Allan said public anger suggested that the pace of service delivery, even in some of the most generously spending councils, such as the City of Johannesburg “is inadequate”.
With 150 000 residents and just close to 5000 RDP houses built, “Diepsloot illustrates the pressure on metropolitan municipalities to deliver in settlements that didn`t even exist before democracy.
They add that the dominance of Gauteng municipalities on their “hot spots monitor” suggests that protests remain predominantly urban, spurred on by the growing frustration of poor communities.
Ward data suggest that those in hot spot wards are typically better off than their national counterparts in terms of income levels and service delivery, “admittedly according to dated 2001 census data”, but they are worse off in absolute terms as regards unemployment.
“But the Diepsloot case also shows up how poor communication by municipalities can lie at the heart of service delivery protests . Protests in Diepsloot were sparked by a rumour of a forced relocation of residents to Brits.
“This represented an unpalatable threat to a very sensitive community, with residents already relocated to Diepsloot from Alexandra 10 years ago. Senior officials in the city initially denied the rumour (contradicting the ward councillor), then refused to comment, and then … confirmed that indeed 320 families living illegally on a sewerage system were to be moved to nearby Adelaide Tambo informal settlement.
“Confusion between councillors and senior officials was clear, while Mayor Amos Masondo was nowhere to be seen. Large well-resourced municipalities such as Johannesburg have no excuse for such a poor response to a crisis; a response that fanned the flames of protest,” the authors aver.
Other factors are at play nationally; especially in provinces with the dubious honour of having a rising profile as sites of service delivery protests, especially the North West, they say.
“When the hot spots monitor was first released in late 2007, the province accounted for 11% of protests; now, with 17% of all protests, it has overtaken the notorious breeding ground for municipal protests, the Free State, moving into second place, with Gauteng still registering the most protests (30%).
“Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka has made clear his disapproval of the management and oversight of the North West`s municipalities and one wonders what sort of cycle is at play — is he picking up on popular sentiment or do his comments reinforce this?
“One reason for increased protests is no doubt greater levels of frustration since April`s elections, given electioneering promises, as well as in the run-up to 2011`s local government polls. Is this reinforced by a sterner line taken by provincial and national government against weak municipalities?
“Although the latest protests are a legitimate civic expression, an alarming feature is looting and stoning of passers-by, especially with the 2010 World Cup looming.
“Indeed, threatening the World Cup is providing leverage to taxi drivers and construction workers, so why not protesters?
“While violent protests should be condemned, poor communities are on the periphery, excluded from social and economic opportunities as well as meaningful political engagement. In fact, for many who feel voiceless, a protest is considered the only way to make oneself heard and, to this end, figureheads` statements that condone protests need to be carefully considered, especially in the volatile post-election environment,” they say.
Meanwhile, Business Day reports that the dynamics of labour unrest in SA has also changed with the country in its first recession in 17 years and with a new pro- worker president.
“Although some believe that there will be less mass action this year because President Jacob Zuma was brought to power in part on a Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) ticket”, the paper says “Mozambican Backbone Corridor workers have downed tools in the construction industry and there are similar threats to the gold, chemical and pharmaceutical industries.
All eyes will also be on the public service wage negotiations that started last week, the paper adds.
“In 2007, government employees embarked on a month- long strike, which ground service delivery to a halt across the country.”
Mahamed Rajah, professor in industrial relations at the University of SA, believes the country will experience strikes across the board, but they will take on a different character as a result of the recession.
“Workers cannot afford to lose money. This year`s strikes will be more intense, there will be more people involved, but they will be for a shorter duration,” he told the paper.
He says another phenomenon will be employers pleading poverty because of the global financial meltdown and not giving pay hikes that are above the 8% inflation rate.
One example is that of paper companies Sappi and Mondi , which are offering an increase of 7% while unions want 12%.
“Most industries are cash- strapped. It`s going to be difficult to get (good) increases,” Rajah says.
In the gold mining industry, unions are warning that a meeting this week will be a “make or break session”. AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields and Rand Uranium are offering an 8.5%, and Harmony a 6.5%, pay rise as well as an additional increase linked to the gold price.
Unions want 15%, arguing that the gold price has been close to record highs.
Workers in the petroleum, chemical and pharmaceutical industries have said they are preparing to lay down tools. Employees are demanding a 10% wage increase, while the petroleum sector is offering 9% and the others between 6% and 8%.
A week-long strike in the construction sector came to an end after a 12% pay rise settlement.
“The construction sector is different, it is on a good wicket. Also, unions were able to use the 2010 (Soccer World Cup) as a trump card,” says Rajah.
State doctors are warning that they may down tools again. However, this is not in protest against poor salary increases, but rather at the government`s inability to implement its occupation-specific dispensation offer on pay structures so that all categories of doctors are adequately and equitably remunerated, the paper said.
The likelihood of a strike in the public service this year over wage increases is slim.
Unions believe Zuma`s administration has brought a change in attitude and is unlikely to unilaterally implement pay rises as the previous administration did.
While Zuma has certainly made the right noises, he is unlikely to escape the pressures felt by organised labour as they try to reduce a “job-loss bloodbath.”
Political analyst Prof Adam Habib believes the tension in the alliance led by the ruling party will not slacken simply because Cosatu had endorsed Zuma`s candidacy.
“Labour unrest is not the death knell of Zuma and Cosatu, but it will create tension in the alliance, and although there is contestation, there will not be a dramatic ending of (the relationship),” he says.
The ANC`s Jessie Duarte concurs and says the party does not believe trade unions should be “conveyer belt” organisations. “The progressive tension between alliance partners is necessary if the ANC is to rejuvenate itself,” she says.