'The year that anger boils over'

Protest activity has risen dramatically

This year could go down in history as the time service delivery protests exploded in South Africa. Approximately 80% of uprisings have become more violent—- especially during Winter months.

These were some of the findings by the Multi-level Government Initiative (MLGI) which tracked protests between February 2007 to August 2012 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 the MLGI 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 has risen dramatically in the first eight months of 2012, with 226 protests;

Should current trends continue, 2012 will have more than twice as many protests as 2011 and more protests than 2010 and 2011 together;

The Western Cape has surpassed Gauteng as the province with the highest number of violent protests in 2012;

Prior to 2012, Western Cape recorded its highest protest activity during election years;

The Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Gauteng account for 56.98% of all protests; and

“Land and housing issues are the most oft-cited with 303 incidents over the 6-year period, with poor service delivery second most frequent at 218 incidents. Grievances related to broken promises and government officials ignoring protesters’ grievances risen exponentially since 2010 but still account for less than 10% of total complaints.”

The Western Cape has also shot past Gauteng as the province with the biggest number of violent protests this year.

Professor Nico Steytler Director of the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape highlighted the fact that 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,” said Steytler.

But MLGI researchers have warned not to draw too many conclusions from the study and that much more research is needed.

Head of the MLGI, Professor Jaap de Visser, said they have just started to collect information on a very complicated issue.

“Let us build up our knowledge about protests over a period of time continue the research. 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,” said De Visser.

- The Times

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