Service-delivery protests getting uglier – report

Protest activity rose dramatically in the first eight months of this year, according to a report by the Multi-Level Government Initiative. About 80% of the protests were violent. The Multi-Level Government Initiative, which tracked protests between February 2007 and August 2012, released its protests barometer in Cape Town yesterday.

The research corroborates the findings of local governments and data collated by intelligence service Municipal IQ. It shows that there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of protests and in the use of violence by protesters. Western Cape felt most of the protesters’ wrath. “Protest” is defined by the researchers 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, [sic] organised public protest activity”. Findings included that:

* Protest activity rose dramatically in the first eight months of 2012, with 226 protests;

* If current trends continue, this year will have more than twice as many protests as last, and more than in 2010 and 2011 together;

*Western Cape surpassed Gauteng as the province with the highest number of violent protests this year;

* Before 2012, Western Cape recorded its highest protest activity during an election year;

* Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Gauteng accounted for 56.98% of protests; and

* Land and housing were the most cited issues, 303 in the six-year period.

Poor service delivery was second, with 218 protests. Grievances related to broken promises and government officials ignoring protesters’ complaints have risen exponentially since 2010 but account for less than 10% of complaints.

This year , Western Cape shot past Gauteng as the province with the biggest number of violent protests. Professor Nico Steytler, director of the Community Law Centre at the University of Western Cape, said there were invariably more protests in winter. “Often it is because the grievances are most severely felt in winter, such as housing, electricity and access to roads,” said Steytler.

But researchers have warned people not to draw hasty conclusions from the study and that more research is needed. The head of the research project, Professor Jaap de Visser, said the researchers had begun collecting information on a very complicated issue. “Let us build up our knowledge about protests over a period of time. “The government should put serious effort into analysing protest activity and use the information to improve its performance and engagement,” he said.—report

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