- Reconciliation Barometer survey (1.78 MB)
Twenty-eight per cent of South Africans say local government cannot be trusted to deliver the services that citizens expect – a figure that has not improved in recent years, the South African Reconciliation Barometer survey, conducted annually by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), has found.
Dissatisfaction with local government service delivery is often cited as a root cause behind protests, and only half of all South Africans indicate that they have confidence in this sphere.
“When we look at confidence in the different kinds of institutions, local government is rated far less positively than national government. I think there’s a direct link between those low levels of confidence and the feeling that government can’t really be trusted to deliver services,” IJR senior project leader Kate Lefko-Everett tells Polity.org.za.
Distrust in local government, the Reconciliation Barometer finds, is highest among the least affluent households.
Lefko-Everett says that while the 2011 Census shows that there have been significant inroads in service delivery, there are still many South Africans without basic services and delivery and uptake has been relatively slow considering that the population is growing very quickly.
The survey also found that half of all South Africans (49%) believe that national leaders are not concerned with the views of ordinary people, while a further 49% feel that there is no way to get disinterested public officials to listen to their concerns.
While trust in leadership to put the best interests of the country first remains relatively high, at 55% among black South Africans, levels of trust are substantially lower among white (31%) and coloured (34%) South Africans.
“This balance is tenuous, and is unlikely to hold too long into the future,” says Lefko-Everett.
“South Africans are not likely to continue to place trust in leaders and public officials who they do not believe are responsive to their needs.
“Many people still tend to think of the government and political leadership as upstanding and their role as being delivery and taking care of the people – almost a parental role, in a sense. But the reality is that a government that is taken seriously and seen as credible by its people has to also be seen to be responding to the views of its citizens, so I don’t think that balance is going to remain for very long.”
While this may seem an alarming concept, Lefko-Everett mentions that there are two sides to public participation. “The one side requires that the government has to make avenues available for people to participate in decision making, while the other side requires citizens to take up that responsibility. Citizens haven’t always done that or they’ve chosen to use different means than the ones government would prefer,” she explains.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because we need to have active citizens. Some movements, like Equal Education for instance, show that civil society can create spaces, especially for young people where it is nonpartisan, with people coming together across different political and historical lines and taking a more active role than they have in the recent past.”
With reports of corruption and maladministration regularly appearing in news headlines, these issues are significant political concerns for South Africans, and young people in particular believe it is widespread.
Almost half of all black under-35’s (47%) believe they have witnessed corruption happening in the community that they live in and only 39% of youth believe government is doing enough to combat corruption at present.
“People believe there is a lot of corruption in government. While young South Africans may or may not have experienced corruption directly, the belief that it is widespread has the potential to erode confidence in leadership and government,” says Lefko-Everett.
“Ultimately, this may lead to a disinterest and growing cynicism about the work of government, and the integrity of leaders.”
There is much work to be done, not just in delivering services but also improving the levels of public engagement between citizens and local government. “Politicians need to create a better quality of conversation and also need to dissipate any views of corruption if they aren’t true,” says Lefko-Everett.
Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index reveals that the perception of the prevalence of corruption in South Africa’s public sector is worsening, with comments by the youth left on The Presidency’s Twitter and Facebook page indicating that young people are increasingly concerned with the levels of corruption in South Africa.
Lefko-Everett suggests that a good first step to increase accountability is to call for greater transparency in reporting items in the Parliamentary Registry of Assets.