Success in service delivery worth celebrating

The Census 2011 results were eagerly awaited by analysts and revealed impressive delivery by local government in the key basic services of water electricity sanitation and refuse removal despite popular perceptions of widespread failure and a record number of service delivery protests this year.

But there is no time for complacency — there are still 27 municipalities all in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape where more than half of the population lives outside of (the benchmark) 200m distance from piped potable water. This is all the more stark given that the median municipality provides access to only 88% of its residents.

But the result that was the most surprising and which goes to explain the prevalence of urban protests was the dramatically high rate of urbanisation especially in the Western Cape and Gauteng. What has not been adequately considered is just how well rapidly expanding metros have coped with this pressure.

In Cape Town the population grew by 29% or 847783 people and as of late last year was home to 3.7-million people. Despite this basic services have expanded by 15% with 94% of residents receiving services. This delivery although incomplete has had to take place daily to meet constantly growing demands. In addition given that access is still incomplete there is a queue and the phasing and prioritisation of projects such as the contentious N2 Gateway project means tension in the race to secure services.

This is confounded where the credibility and motives of council officials are questioned as in Makhaza with Cape Town now the record holder for the highest number of service delivery protests overtaking Johannesburg.

The tale of Johannesburg is different but equally fascinating. Johannesburg which grew by 1.2-million people to 4.4-million residents between the 2001 and 2011 censuses can boast the proudest service delivery record in absolute numbers ensuring access to services for 94% of its residents (the same as Cape Town but at a marginally higher expansion rate of 16% since 2001 for a larger population).

This is by any measure a praiseworthy accomplishment that does not get enough recognition. Perhaps this is because Johannesburg’s credibility has failed elsewhere with a bruising billing crisis compromising not only its reputation but also contributing to its revenue raising and rate of capital spending falling behind Cape Town. These factors as well as improving economic indicators mean Cape Town has overtaken Johannesburg for the first time in four years on our municipal productivity index.

In fact it could be argued that two distinct models for local government are emerging. The controversial proposal to merge Emfuleni with Midvaal to create a fourth Gauteng metro shows up an apparent tension between the two. The Democratic Alliance (DA) is opposed to the plan which would engulf its provincial flagship municipality watering down its success in attracting investors as a strategy to boost employment and combat poverty. Census data bear out the DA’s claims of success in this trickle-down approach with employment gains evident in Midvaal. While the two municipalities are not distinctly comparable (Emfuleni with more than 700000 residents is almost seven times bigger than Midvaal) Midvaal grew by almost 50% between 2001 and last year spurred on by its 81% employment (as opposed to Emfuleni’s 65% which experienced relatively low growth of 10%).

But to imply that Emfuleni would be the winning party of a merger is to overlook that Emfuleni has had greater success in basic service delivery than Midvaal suggesting a more developmental model of delivery (driven by state provision of basic services). Emfuleni has attained impressive access to key services for 94% of its residents — the third-highest of all municipalities and ahead of Midvaal which provides access to key services to 87% of residents.

The Emfuleni case shows up the more direct delivery focus of (well-run) African National Congress councils. Which model will ultimately serve SA’s needs best is yet to be seen but the issue of focus and credibility within different segments of society comes to the fore for both parties in ensuring sustainable growth.

There are gains to be celebrated and these should be communicated to all constituencies in charting a way forward to ensure inclusive growth.