Revealed – the true scale of SA service delivery protests [with original offical data]
ATHANDIWE SABA and JEANNE VAN DER MERWE
South Africa’s wave of service delivery protests is far greater than previously imagined with official police data revealing more than 3 000 protests in the past four years.
Media24 Investigations used access to information law to ask the South African Police Service for official records showing service delivery protests across the country since January 2009 [see below for links to the police records in Pdfs].
The data shows that there is a service delivery protest – either violent or peaceful – at least once every two days across the country.
The true scale of the protests is far greater than other estimates.
Monitoring agency Municipal IQ recorded 410 “major service delivery protests” from 2009 to 2012. The organisation records sustained protests over multiple days as a single occurrence.
The University of the Western Cape’s Service Delivery Protest Barometer, using a slightly broader definition but, like Municipal IQ, sources its data from media reports and other public records, arrived at about 720 protests from the beginning of 2009 to the end of August 2012.
Karen Heese of Municipal IQ says the large variance between their numbers and those of the police can be attributed to how the protests are counted – her organisation focuses solely on protests against the municipalities, while protests reflected in the police data could also reflect protests against other government bodies such as provincial governments.
“My understanding of the SAPS data is that it is per incident, so while we recorded say Olifantshoek as a single protest, there could well be hundreds of SAPS incidents reported, even perhaps on the same day,” she said.
The police records – which show protests specifically classified as service delivery related – show that there have been 3 258 service delivery protest in the country between January 2009 and November last year when the request for information was filed.
The data shows service delivery protests by residential areas and policing districts across South Africa and is the first time such a comprehensive count of service delivery protests has been made public.
The records reveal that Mmabatho in the North West had the highest number of service delivery protests Z 301, or one every 4.7 days over nearly four years.
Of those, 190 were peaceful and 111 were accompanied by unrest.
The Mmabatho district’s worst-hit neighbourhood was Taung, where a councillor’s home was burnt by protestors last year. Between 2009 and last year, Taung saw 32 protests classified by police as peaceful, and 10 that were deemed violent.
With 293 protests, Johannesburg had the second highest number of protests, with the worst-hit neighbourhoods being Lenasia and Soweto with 26 protests and 39 respectively over the past four years. Lenasia was the scene of violent protests in November last year when houses were bulldozed by the Gauteng Housing Department, and also in September 2011.
The Pretoria district was third with 235 protests over the same period.
One of the worst scenes of violent service delivery protests, the data shows, was the Nelspruit district, which had 106 violent protests and 61 peaceful protests. The worst-hit neighbourhood was KaNyamanzane with 18 violent protests since 2009, and only two peaceful ones.
The Northern Cape has also been the scene of a large proportion of violent protests, with the eastern part of the province recording 74 violent protests and 65 peaceful ones, with Noupoort recording 11 violent protests and Olifantshoek 10.
Spokesperson for Mbombela local municipality, Joseph Ngala, said that protests in KaNyamazane had been as a result of demands for water, roads, electricity and other basic services, and the last recorded protest action was in August last year.
“Service delivery protests are by their nature ‘seasonal’. Even when concerns or reasons are genuine, there will be opportunists who will turn them into political points scoring,” he said.