Delivery protests during Cup are unlikely

The Fifa Soccer World Cup is a daunting event to stage and it has become a central bargaining chip during some of the first few chapters of this year’s strike season. But it can be assumed that central bargaining teams will contain the risk of disruption, to some extent, appealing to national priorities and pride.





The wild-card question is whether disgruntled communities are likely to stage disruptive service delivery protests. In fact, one wonders whether, when President mouseover=" displaydata('37858', 'Politics', event); " style="cursor: pointer; color: #b30616; text-decoration: underline" onclick="CompanyLookup('37858', 'Politics', 'Jacob Zuma');" onmouseout="hidedata();">Jacob Zuma recently attended a mass prayer for a successful hosting of the World Cup, he was thinking of these communities when he implored South Africans to behave well over the four-week period.





Although ultimately speculative, there are a number of issues that suggest the extent to which protests are likely during the World Cup.





Considering that the first quarter of this year stacked up more than half of last year’s record number of protests on the Municipal IQ Hotspots Monitor, a statistical extrapolation does not bode well. Also of concern is that protests typically peak in harsh winter weather, when informal settlements are particularly compromised by floods and fires, and ratepayers are hit by high electricity bills.





While the trend of accelerating protests and winter peaks are worrying, there has been a deceleration of protests in recent weeks, and holiday periods — most specifically Easter and Christmas — tend to experience a lull in protests.



We concur, then, with the Human Sciences Research Council’s view, put forward this week, that the World Cup will probably provide a welcome distraction that will diminish protests.





But, more importantly, there is an issue of patriotic pride, and it is likely that while communities may be disgruntled with their local councillors or municipal officials, they would not want to tarnish SA’s success in hosting such a significant function. To this end, we should all hope that Bafana Bafana do us proud. It should also be hoped that a culture of hospitality and internationalism counters any xenophobic threads seen in a number of service delivery protests.





It is also important to consider deterrents to protests.



Last month, the Gauteng community safety department and the South African Police Service issued a joint statement in which they argued that illegal protests had “degenerated into lawlessness”, and warned that participants in illegal protests would face the full might of the law.



The implications of a zero- tolerance approach in the province that experienced 42% of major municipal protests between January and April this year, according to the Municipal IQ Hotspots Monitor, should not be underestimated. Surely it is likely to be fairly well understood that any signs of lawlessness, in a country plagued by that perception, will not be perceived kindly by an extra-vigilant police force.





Ultimately, while forecasting is always a risky business, a view needs to be taken on whether protests are the doing of some Machiavellian third force (which would no doubt seize the opportunity presented by the World Cup to undermine the government), or are random, erratic occurrences driven by particular local circumstances.



We are of the view that protests are the latter; and while they may be catalysed by political factionalism in certain regions, generally they represent the practical grievances of mainly urban communities that are marginalised and at a considerable disadvantage to neighbouring communities. If this is true, there will hopefully be a peaceful month ahead.