Service delivery protests in Mpofana Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal.
Magwaza, Thokozani S’bongiseni.
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South Africa has been experiencing a rising tide of protests since 2000. While some argue that the reasons for the protests is the lack of service delivery, others argue that, in fact, it is the quality of service that is the problem. To this end, the notion of service delivery protests has perhaps become a common place in South Africa. Some argue that the use of the term service delivery is often too broad and varies. There are two divergent views on the reasons behind the protests. The first view largely driven by the governing party in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) and the government it leads suggests that South Africa has achieved a lot already since 1994. The protests are a sign that those who are still waiting in line to get their turn for services are impatient because they see a great number of their neighbours receiving the services they also desperately need. Another opinion largely supported by empirical evidence suggests that the poor majority are unhappy with the fruits of democracy. This view largely suggests that protest is a ‘rebellion of the poor’. The aim of this study is to investigate the reasons behind protests in South Africa. This will be achieved through the lens of Mpofana local municipality. The study used two theoretical approaches to explore the subject, namely, principal agency theory, on one hand, and invited and invented spaces, on the other. The idea was to understand the nature of the relationship that exists between people of Mpofana. Using the agency theory it was easy to explain some of the notions and motivations people of Mpofana put behind their involvement in protests. They view protests both as a method of effective communication and self-activity which allows them to create their own spaces (i.e. invented spaces) of participation when the official platforms are no longer trusted to work in their favour. It is also their way of reclaiming the authority they delegated to the local council (principal agency or PA relationship) through elections. In the end, their reclaiming of authority prevents them from incurring further agency losses by limiting goal conflict on the part of the agent (local council). These two theories were selected because they made it possible to understand more closely the reactions and responses that people of Mpofana attach to their protest action. In this way, it was also possible to explain or contribute to the current protest debates in South Africa by using Mpofana as a point of reference. It is clear that there is growing social distance between the citizens and their representatives. It is also very clear from the research that the existing public participation mechanisms are not working and that protests are a reaction to this frustration. In other words, out of frustration with goal conflict and its attendant agency costs, the restrictive and/or ineffectiveness of formal spaces of participation become less favoured by grassroots. Therefore they invent their own spaces of participation with a view to defy the status quo and influence the policy and decisions in their favour. The study adopted a qualitative approach which administered open-ended questions to a convenient sample of three focus groups of participants selected from a sample frame of three wards, namely, ward one, three and five within the Mpofana municipality. The study also used structured interviews to determine the nature of responses (or lack, thereof) from the municipality, in terms of its mandate, in relation to the service delivery needs of the local citizens.