THIS year could go down in history as the time when service delivery protests exploded in South Africa. About 80% of protests have become more violent – especially during the winter months.
These were some of the findings by the Multi-Level Government Initiative (MLGI),which tracked protests between February 2007 and August this year through media reports.
The project released its Service Delivery Protest Barometer in Cape Town yesterday.
The research corroborates the findings of local government data and intelligence service Municipal IQ – that in addition to the unprecedented spike in protests this year and the increase in violence, the Western Cape has had to shoulder most of the unrest in the country.
The term "protest" was defined during research as: "Any complaint or issue cited by protesters in reports, whether related to the delivery of municipal services or not, over which citizens decide to and actually engage in organised public protest activity."
Other findings included that:
- Overall, protest activity had risen dramatically in the first eight months of 2012, with 226 protests;
- Should present trends continue, this year would have more than twice as many protests as last year and more protests than 2010 and last year together;
- The Western Cape had this year surpassed Gauteng as the province with the highest number of violent protests; and
- The Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng accounted for 56.98% of all protests.
"Land and housing issues are the most oft-cited with 303 incidents over the six-year period, with poor service delivery the second most frequent at 218 incidents.
"Grievances related to broken promises and government officials ignoring protesters' grievances have risen exponentially since 2010 but still account for less than 10% of the total complaints," the report said.
University of the Western Cape Community Law Centre director Professor Nico Steytler said protests increased in winter. "Often it is because the grievances and the issues are the most severely felt in winter – like housing, electricity, access to roads."
But MLGI researchers have warned against too many conclusions being drawn from the study, saying more research was needed.
MLGI head Professor Jaap de Visser said they had only started to collect information on a complicated issue.
"Let us build up our knowledge about protests over a period of time ... It is not just something we should do – government should put serious effort into analysing protest activity and use that information to improve its performance and its engagement."