SA had 3.6 million indigent households in 2020, a 6.4% increase over 2019, according to the Non-financial Census of Municipalities, 2020, released on Tuesday.
While the Auditor-General’s (AG) latest report on the financial state of municipalities paints a dire picture of mismanagement and declining service delivery, the StatsSA census points to some favourable outcomes.
The chart below shows the number of ‘consumer units’ (points of delivery) receiving some kind of municipal service. The number of units receiving water services jumped more than 50% since 2006, and the number receiving electricity jumped more than 60% over the same period.
An obvious conclusion when placing the AG’s municipal findings alongside StatsSA’s non-financial census is that more people are receiving services, but at a huge financial cost to the country. What is not disclosed in the StatsSA census is the quality of the services delivered, which the AG has started to include as part of its audit opinion. Fewer municipalities are receiving clean audits, and budgets are being cannibalised to cover rising staff and councillor salary costs. That leaves less for maintenance and other expenses essential to service delivery.
According to StatsSA, the number of consumer units receiving free basic services decreased for all services except electricity between 2019 and 2020.
“According to 2020 estimates, there were 3.6 million indigent households as identified by municipalities. Out of this total, 2.7 million indigent households benefited from the indigent support system for water, while 2.1 million benefited from free basic electricity provided by municipalities. The report further reveals that 2.0 million indigent households benefited from the indigent support system for sewerage and sanitation and 2.4 million indigent households benefited from the indigent support system for solid waste management,” says StatsSA.
The reason for the decline in free basic services in areas other than electricity is due to fewer users registering for these services. StatsSA offered no explanation for the decline in registrations for free basic services between 2019 and 2020.
Some 22.1% of SA’s 12.8 million ‘consumer units’ relied on free basic sewage and sanitation services (against 23.5% in 2019), 26% (2019: 27.1%) received free solid waste management services, and 19% (2019: 19.4%) received free basic electricity. Of the 14.1 million ‘consumer units’ across the country in 2020, 24% (2019: 25%) received free water services.
The census shows 134 592 indigent households had been provided with solar home power systems in 2020, up from about 131 000 in 2019. More than half of these solar systems were provided in Gauteng, followed by the Eastern Cape.
The Free Basic Services policy introduced by government in 2001 allows for:
- 6 kilolitres of free basic water per household per month
- 50 kilowatt hours of free basic electricity per household per month
- R50 average subsidy for sewerage and sanitation
- R50 average subsidy for solid waste management.
Fewer municipal employees
The number of people employed by municipalities decreased from 333 412 in 2019 to 311 364 in 2020, a decline of more than 6%. StatsSA says there were 23 230 people occupying posts at the management level (including mayoral and councillor positions) in all South African municipalities, excluding vacancies, with 14 209 of these posts filled by men while women occupied the remaining 9 021 posts. There was a 43.2% decrease in the number of funded vacant posts from 53 569 in 2019 to 30 426 in 2020 (including mayoral and councillor’s positions).