Flood of water protests

17 September 2013 - 08:19 By SCHALK MOUTON
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

If there's one thing that makes South Africans stand together more than the 2010 Fifa World Cup, it is the lack of water service delivery.

As service delivery protests spike across the country, the preliminary findings of a study done by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies shows that rich, poor, black and white all stand together in showing their dissatisfaction with poor water management and infrastructure.

Dr Barbara Tapela, senior researcher in Integrated Water Resources Management at Plaas, said service delivery protests related to water were becoming "more frequent and more violent". However, she said taxpayers' dissatisfaction did not always show in the form of protests.

"In 2012 the frequency, geographical spread and violence of social protests in post-apartheid South Africa reached unprecedented levels. Water service delivery issues rose in prominence among various reasons cited for violent and non-violent protests."

Tapela said while violent protests were increasing among disadvantaged groups, more and more taxpayers were declaring disputes with municipalities.

"It is a vote of no confidence in their municipalities' ability to deliver services, so they withhold their tax money and pay it into a trust to pay private contractors for services," said Tapela.

In 2009, 220 branches of the National Taxpayers Union in towns situated in 47 municipalities declared disputes with their respective municipalities, with members withholding their tax money.

The number of disputes due to poor service delivery increased to 278 towns in the same 47 municipalities this year.

According to the Service Delivery Protest Barometer, service delivery protests increased exponentially since 2008, with violent protests in the past two years increasing by more than 100% when compared with 2007.

Tapela said in many of the cases, residents showed frustration over unmet expectations for water services, lack of accountability by municipal officials, corruption, indifference, lack of monitoring and censure of non-compliance by water services authorities and officials.

Residents were also unhappy about the lack of infrastructure, as well as theft and illegal connections.

Traditionally, violent protests mainly occurred around urban areas, but they were now also occurring in rural areas.

"Since many residents of such localities often can't afford to procure alternative sources, such as bottled water, living with social water scarcity can mean living with vulnerability to disease and the indignity of not being able to bath. It is not easy to go to work or find work when a person has not bathed or washed their clothes."