CAPE TOWN – While violent service delivery protests have flared up in many parts of the country, the Western Cape, which had seen a dramatic decrease in unrest over the past two years, has been relatively peaceful.
In 2015, Cape Town was one of the most protest-prone municipalities in the country, rocked by at least 84 violent demonstrations, according to the civic protest barometer (CPB) of the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
This year, however, there have only been three.
These, the city said, were “smaller protests which are normally confined to area-specific issues”.
According to the UWC community law centre, the Western Cape had only overtaken Gauteng once in 2012, when the province recorded the most protests in the country.
Since then, the Western Cape had consistently been second.
While there may have been many more protests during 2015, the City of Cape Town’s data showed the municipality issued only 42 “gathering permits” in 2015.
Last year the city approved 20 while that figure had further gone down to three this year so far.
Provincial ANC spokesperson Lionel Adendorf disputed the municipalities figures, saying they were not an accurate picture of the various communities’ satisfaction levels with local government.
Mayor Patricia de Lille’s spokesperson, Zara Nicholson, attributed the decline to the Organisation Development and Transformation Plan (ODTP) which also requires municipality officials to engage much more closely with communities.
“This is precisely the shift that the ODTP aims to bring about to see the administration become more customer centric, more responsive and proactive so that we can detect and prevent problems and work much more closely with residents to resolve issues,” Nicholson said.
“This has been proven to be a very successful approach in a range of communities and we can clearly see the benefits of enhanced direct community engagement.”
Researchers at UWC explained the definition of civic protests adopted in their CPB for the year leading up to 2016 excluded protests that were part of civil disobedience campaigns.
This was based on the need to link protest action to aggrieved communities and so define protest action in terms of grievance, agents and geography.
As an example, the infamous “poo protests” that took place in 2013 at Cape Town International Airport and on the nearby highway involved protesters living in local communities.
However, the protests were prompted by inadequate sanitation services, a grievance widely shared by poor communities in South Africa, therefor linking only these particular local communities to the protest action lends little insight into it, the research indicated.
The #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall protests fell into the same category of civil disobedience campaigns and were also excluded from the CPB because they were not directed at local government.
Head of the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies, Gareth Newham, said: “We do not disagree with the UWC or Cape Town figures as we do not know what they are counting or what data they are using. For example, if they are only counting service delivery protests targeting local government, there very well could be a decrease.”
PHOTO: The number of violent protests against service delivery in Cape Town, like the “poo protests”, shown here, was down, according to research. Picture: Thomas Holder