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Municipal IQ data shows lockdowns stifled SA social unrest this year — but 2020 is not over yet

Municipal IQ data shows lockdowns stifled SA social unrest this year  — but 2020 is not over yet
Municipal IQ says service delivery protests remain well below the average monthly levels recorded since 2012. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Consultancy Municipal IQ has found a significant decline in the number of service delivery protests in South Africa in 2020. This is probably not linked to sudden improvements in service delivery, but because of lockdown measures. So don’t expect a trend which would normally be seen as positive to hold.

The lockdowns to contain the Covid-19 pandemic appear to have stifled service delivery protests in 2020. 

Municipal IQ, which tracks such trends, says that in January to July, South Africa had 52 major service delivery protests. These are the riots triggered by poor government services, joblessness and poverty. Municipal IQ’s 2020 comparison is with full years from 2004 to 2019, so it is not like for like. 

But it is still instructive. In 2018, there was a record of 237 of such incidents, and 218 in 2019. The 2020 trend is on pace to reach just above 100, so such outbursts appear to have more than halved. There has been an uptick since the Level 5 lockdown was lifted, but Municipal IQ says the numbers remain well below the average monthly levels recorded since 2012. 

“Municipal service delivery protests, as we define them, have definitely diminished this year… but this excludes a rash of land invasions and other forms of what could be termed ‘social unrest’. I anticipate this broader category will rise with economic hardship and governance failures (eg Covid corruption),” Municipal IQ economist Karen Heese said in emailed remarks to Business Maverick.

Of course, this long year is far from over. The economy has suffered a massive contraction and the unemployment rate, which was 30% in the first quarter, has certainly surged. Hunger and poverty levels have increased, as well as public anger over allegations of Covid corruption. And it seems doubtful that there has been any meaningful improvement in the delivery of local government services.

Social unrest, such as service delivery protests, largely stem from governance failures. It is also one of the many deterrents to investment in South Africa, especially in poor areas where it is needed most. So this is a space to watch. Among other things, it is a barometer of the national mood. DM/BM

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