IF there is one thing that makes South Africans stand together more than anything else, it is the lack of water service delivery.
As protests across the country spike, the preliminary findings of a study by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas), show that rich, poor, black and white all stand together in showing their dissatisfaction with poor water management and infrastructure in the country.
Dr Barbara Tapela, senior researcher in integrated water resources management at Plaas, said service delivery protests related to water were becoming more frequent and more violent, but taxpayers' dissatisfaction did not always show in the form of protests.
"Last year, the frequency, geographical spread and violence of social protests in post-apartheid South Africa reached unprecedented levels," Tapela said. "Water service delivery issues rose in prominence among various reasons cited for violent and non- violent protests."
Tapela said while violent protests were increasing among disadvantaged groups, more and more taxpayers were declaring disputes with municipalities and withholding taxes.
"It is a vote of no confidence in their municipalities' ability to deliver services, so they withhold their tax money and pay it into a trust to pay private contractors for services," Tapela said.
In 2009, 220 branches of the National Taxpayers' Union (NTU) in towns situated in 47 municipalities, declared disputes with their respective municipalities, with members withholding their tax money.
The number of disputes due to poor service delivery increased to 278 towns in the same 47 municipalities this year. "They fall into a category of non-violent protest, where they choose to use institutionalised ways of protesting," she said.
According to the Service Delivery Protest Barometer, compiled by the Multilevel Government Initiative, service delivery protests had increased exponentially since 2008, with violent protests in the past two years increasing by more than 100% compared to 2007.
Even in cases where the protests were not service delivery-related – like the De Doorns farm worker protests – Tapela said like the 20 other factors that caused the particular protest, the lack of water and sanitation was usually the main driver of such protests.