Satisfied residents protests coexist
Many a journalist reporting on the City of Johannesburg’s recently released customer satisfaction survey has noted with bemusement that the positive results stand in stark contrast with rising numbers of service delivery protests. It is important to drill down into customer satisfaction and service delivery protests to understand why they coexist.
A customer satisfaction survey of 3000 Johannesburg residents and 750 businesses carried out over the past year by the Bureau for Market Research suggests there is reasonable satisfaction with the delivery of core services a marked improvement from a 2005 trough. This is not of course true of all services. The common middle-class complaints of potholes or unstable electricity supply reported in the media are also reflected in complaints about electricity interruptions and neighbourhood roads especially with regard to maintenance along with street lighting sanitation and waste water. Satisfaction with public safety and customer care is also deteriorating. By contrast top-scoring services included refuse removal and the provision of water.
Notwithstanding the variation between services generally improved customer satisfaction especially over time remains curious given its inverted relationship with the (rising) number of protests — a perception borne out by the data collated on Municipal IQ’s Hotspots Monitor which has shown a rapid increase in protests in Johannesburg over the past four years.
What else does the data tell us about service delivery protests in Johannesburg? Most importantly protests have taken place in 18 wards — 72% of which are informal settlements. Protest wards represent only 165% of the city’s 109 wards.
Eleven of the 18 wards have experienced more than one protest suggesting that protests tend to recur in a handful of communities.
Ward data shows that these communities are typically significantly poorer have higher levels of unemployment and have lower levels of access to services than the average Johannesburg resident. Residents of these communities are not likely to know the city’s one-call number to register complaints or to benefit from historical investments (or in most cases even new ones).
The descriptions of service delivery protests in Johannesburg on Municipal IQ’s Hotspots Monitor also makes clear that most of these protests are well supported with crowds of protestors being at least several hundred strong. They are not an insignificant social phenomenon. The potent combination of indigence relative deprivation and by any measure squalid living conditions in some cases has given rise to the involvement of organisations such as the South African National Civics Organisation and the Anti-Privatisation Forum.
Regardless Johannesburg has shown improvement in customer satisfaction albeit unevenly between services and for this the city can be proud of areas of improvement. But like any metropolis in a developing country its economic success acts as a drawcard for migrants who often fail to secure the better life that they sought or at the very least end up compromised in terms of cramped living conditions for a transitional period leading to ever- widening gaps of inequality between the haves and have-nots.
For the city this unbalanced socioeconomic outcome requires a rapid roll-out of basic infrastructure and free basic services (which is not always financially or logistically feasible) as well as sensitive communication mechanisms to the most marginalised (who are highly unlikely to be reached by any customer satisfaction poll) as well as accessible representative ward councillors. While protests are often aimed at the city which is perceived by protesters to have failed in basic service delivery at root discontent may well be deep disillusionment with the landscape of post-apartheid SA. With just more than 13% of South African households living in informal housing a year ago Johannesburg is likely to continue to see high levels of protest regardless of service levels.