Protests ‘point to service delivery successes’

14 February 2014

The recent upsurge in service delivery protests in South Africa had as much to do with the country’s service delivery successes as with its failures, President Jacob Zuma told Parliament on Thursday.

Delivering his State of the Nation address in Cape Town, Zuma said the dominant narrative in the case of the protests “has been to attribute them to alleged failures of government. However, the protests are not simply the result of ‘failures’ of government but also of the success in delivering basic services”.

When 95% of the country’s households had access to water, he said, the 5% who still need to be provided for felt they could not wait a moment longer.

“Success is also the breeding ground of rising expectations.”

Zuma expressed concern with the manifestation of violence in some of the protests taking place in the country. “Also worrying is what appears to be premeditated violence, as is the case with the use of petrol bombs and other weapons during protests.”

He said the governmented supports the right of citizens to express themselves. “The right to protest, peacefully and unarmed, is enshrined in the Constitution.”

However, when protests threatened lives and property and destroyed valuable infrastructure intended to serve the community, they undermined the very democracy that upheld the right to protest.

Loss of life during protests

President Zuma said any loss of life at the hands of the police in the course of dealing with protests could not be overlooked or condoned.

“Loss of life is not a small matter. We need to know what happened, why it happened. Any wrongdoing must be dealt with and corrective action must be taken. Police must act within the ambit of the law at all times.”

At the same time, he said: “As we hold the police to account, we should be careful not to end up delegitimising them and glorify anarchy in our society.”

Zuma said while the culture of violence originated from the country’s apartheid past, South African leaders had to reflect on what they were doing or failing to do to root out the violence that surfaced during protests.

Acts of violence, intimidation and destruction of property were criminal offences, and the police would arrest and prosecute those who commited such acts.

Interventions in place

In Gauteng province, Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has established a high-level task team to probe the violent service delivery protests.

Earlier this week, North West Premier Thandi Modise placed the embattled Madibeng municipality under administration following several service delivery protests in Mothotlung, Majakaneng and Hebron.

To address issues of service delivery, from 2011, teams from the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation have visited areas around the country to assess and promote service delivery.

The government has also been clear that South Africans themselves should participate actively in local decision-making and interact with the government through the available structures in order to fast-track service delivery.

Achievements in service delivery

Zuma said the government had made remarkable achievements in increasing access to services such as water, sanitation and electricity over the past 20 years.

As part of this, the government had begun an intensive programme to eliminate the bucket sewage system countrywide.

“Phase one of the programme will eradicate buckets in formalised townships of the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. Phase two will eradicate buckets in informal settlements in all provinces.”

Regarding housing, Zuma said the next administration would focus on promoting better-located mixed-income housing projects.

“In housing, about three-million housing units and more than 855 000 serviced sites were delivered since 1994. Nearly 500 informal settlements have been replaced with quality housing and basic services over the past five years.”

Some communities still did not have these services, especially in informal settlements and rural areas, he said. However, all spheres of government were working to ensure the provision of these services, especially in the 23 municipalities identified as having the greatest number of backlogs.