Over the last few months the opinions that South Africans hold towards national government appear to be slipping, and with good reason. The Nenegate debacle, the actions of parliamentarians and the allegations that hang over the president relating to corruption and state capture are not the kinds of things that inspire confidence.
However, a recent survey of Gauteng residents found that while attitudes towards national government are increasingly negative, there has been a slight improvement in how people view their local municipalities. Although the levels of satisfaction with local government are not high, they have not deteriorated, despite what is happening at national level.
The survey of 30 000 residents was conducted by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO), a partnership between the University of Johannesburg, the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, the Gauteng Provincial Government and local government in Gauteng. It asked questions about a number of issues including the provision of services, political and social values, dynamics in the local community and attitudes towards government.
“In 2013, 37% of respondents were satisfied with local government. In 2015, this was down to 34%,” said GCRO executive director Dr Rob Moore. “However, in 2013, 51% were firmly dissatisfied with local government, which has dropped to 45%. It appears that more people are undecided – neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. Interestingly, at 43%, whites are more satisfied with local government than Africans at 33%.”
In the provision of certain services, Gauteng municipalities rated very highly, with 83% of respondents indicating that they were satisfied with water services, 71% with local education services and 65% with public health services. However, only 22% reported being satisfied with government initiatives to grow the economy.
It is also noteworthy that just because people were satisfied with the services they are receiving does not mean that they were satisfied with local government as a whole. Even though 59% of Gauteng residents reported being satisfied on an index of 13 typical local government services, only 34% are satisfied with the performance of local government more generally.
A telling finding in the survey was that those who are satisfied with their local councillor are more likely to be satisfied with local government in general. Of the respondents who said that they were satisfied with their councillor, 58% were also satisfied with local government generally. However, amongst those who were dissatisfied with their local councillor, only 16% were satisfied with local government.
This says a great deal about the desire of South Africans to be able to identify someone who is accountable to them.
“Personal experience with government services plays a powerful role in shaping attitudes towards government as a whole,” observed Moore.
This point is further emphasised by the finding that those who had been treated with respect and dignity in recent interactions with government representatives are almost twice as likely to be satisfied than those who felt that they were not treated well.
One of the survey’s most troubling findings was that the proportion of current business owners amongst the respondents fell from 11% in both 2011 and 2013 to 8% in 2015. This decline in entrepreneurs should be a big concern for all levels of government as there is no chance of meaningful economic growth without a substantial contribution from small businesses.
The survey also found that of those who had tried to start a business, 45% said that their initiative had failed. This was up from 34% in 2013.
While tougher economic conditions may be playing a part, this is a significant drop and is an indictment of the country’s failure to support small- and micro-enterprises. Addressing this issue should be a priority for all levels of government.
Free and fair elections
Easily the most disturbing revelation in the survey, however, was that only 52% of respondents agreed that the upcoming elections would be free and fair. This is a big drop from 66% in 2011.
This is something that all political leaders need to take very seriously because when people lose faith in the democratic process the likelihood grows that they will resort to violent forms of protest. Julius Malema and the EFF in particular have been questioning the credibility of the electoral process for some time now, and it seems this is a message that is finding a receptive audience.
It is, however, an extremely dangerous political game to play. Once radical political parties start disputing election outcomes a country can find itself on very shaky ground.
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