Most feel let down by their municipality
More than half of all urban South African's are dissatisfied with the service they get from their local municipalities, and the level of unhappiness is greatest among the very poor.
Results of a survey released to the Sunday Times suggest that the ANC may have its work cut out in traditionally loyal townships and informal settlements in the municipal elections to be held on May 18.
"Service delivery, or the lack of it, will be the key election issue," said TNS Research Surveys pollster Neil Higgs.
"Protests can be expected almost anywhere, feelings are so strong. That this will spill over into violence in many instances should not be a surprise," he said.
The South African Institute of Race Relations reported last month that four people were killed, 94 were injured and 750 were arrested in community protests linked to service delivery last year.
Municipal IQ, which monitors South Africa's local governments, reported recently that 40% of the country's 283 local governments had been affected by service delivery protests, mostly in Gauteng and the Western Cape, with 111 major incidents in the year.
The most recent eruption was in Wesselton, near Ermelo, where a protester was killed when police opened fire two weeks ago before arresting about 100 people. However, some reports said the violence had more to do with competition for electable positions in the forthcoming elections than with service delivery.
The TNS survey of 2000 adults in the seven major metropolitan areas shows that satisfaction grows with wealth. While no one in the lowest of the 10 income categories used to delineate the population admitted to being happy with municipal service delivery, almost half of those in the top two categories were satisfied.
Confirming that trend, fewer than half of those living in houses and flats said they were unhappy, but more than three-quarters of those living in shacks said they were.
"It is the poorest of the poor who are the most unhappy - a powder keg indeed," said Higgs.
In Port Elizabeth, dissatisfaction soared from 42% in February last year to 60% in November last year, and from 40% to 48% in Bloemfontein. It dropped significantly in East London and on the East Rand.
The survey confirmed other polls that show Cape Town to have the best service record and the happiest population. There, dissatisfaction dropped from 42% to 39%, the best score in any area.
Cape Town and the Western Cape are controlled by the Democratic Alliance.
"These figures confirm that the DA enters the local government elections in a very positive environment," said DA strategist Ryan Coetzee.
He said the trend towards greatest dissatisfaction among the poorest people was partly inevitable. "People are, to an extent, just commenting on the circumstances of their lives."
But he said the DA's own research showed that Cape Town's reputation for better service delivery had spread across the country and among all population groups, though it was highest among whites.
"What's clear is that if you do the basics of local government consistently and right, you win the support of the people."
Municipal IQ said last month that the elections were unlikely to spark new protests, but violence could flare several months after the poll "when electioneering promises are perceived to have been" reneged upon.
- In responses to a separate question, a third of residents in the seven biggest cities said the ANC, SACP and Cosatu should split and fight the next election separately.
Blacks and whites gave similar answers on whether the alliance should split, but whites were more decided, with 45% saying they should not.
With a higher proportion of undecideds, 36% of blacks opposed a split.