A recent survey by Consulta shows that people believe that municipalities are getting worse at delivering basic services. Its South African Citizen Satisfaction Index (SA-csi), the eighth time Consulta has done this annual survey, has dropped to its lowest level since the index’s inception.
The research house polled eight metropolitan municipalities earlier this year, and the results show that they are falling far short of meeting the expectations of residents and ratepayers.
“The results are a direct reflection of the dire picture painted by numerous auditor-general and media reports of the dysfunctional state of many municipalities across the country,” says Natasha Doren, senior consultant at Consulta.
“The bottom line is that local government is the sphere of government closest to the people. It follows that the focus of local government should be on its citizens and delivering what the people need and expect as protected [by] our constitution.
“The latest SA-csi result is another negative narrative alongside several other indicators pointing to an urgent need for all role players to take decisive action to change the trajectory of local government failures and outright catastrophes,” says Doren.
The SA-csi for municipalities measures people’s satisfaction and trust in service delivery, with the eight ‘Category A’ municipalities being: Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni in Gauteng; Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape; Cape Town in the Western Cape; eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal; and Mangaung in the Free State.
A total of 2 537 residents of these metros were polled online and by telephone during the last few months.
Even the best has slipped
Cape Town emerged as the overall leader for the fifth consecutive year, achieving a score of 61.9 out of a possible 100 – although the Mother City’s score has dropped from the 66 it achieved in 2020.
Nevertheless, Cape Town is well ahead of all the other metros and more than 10 points above the score of 51.1 for all municipalities. The Consulta report notes that most municipalities performed worse than in previous years, according to opinions voiced by residents.
“Municipalities recorded the lowest satisfaction scores by a far margin for all industry sectors tracked by the SA-csi and Consulta,” says Doren.
“The results show that citizens’ expectations of local government delivery of services are very far from being met. The 10-point decline in citizen expectations compared with 2020 is a significant red flag.
“Lower expectations are typically the driver of drops in all other metrics of citizen satisfaction, including overall quality, meeting residents’ needs and reliability. Overall, the below-par [below-average] performance is driven by widely held negative perception of reliability of services, many of which are teetering on or have collapsed in many local councils,” she adds.
Residents in metropolitan areas believe that municipalities are unable to perform their basic tasks – the tasks that underpin a municipality’s very existence – such as water supply and management, electricity supply, garbage and refuse disposal, road maintenance, clean streets and suburbs, and reliable billing.
“These are the fundamentals of why local governments exist, yet these are the areas that citizens most flag as their pain points. Local government structures are the only sphere of government in South Africa where our constitution stipulates a clear mandate: a functional body that ensures that citizens are provided with quality transport and roads; adequate spatial planning and housing; economic opportunities and development; essential services ranging from utilities to fire services, as well as recreation and an environment to work, live and thrive in,” says Doren.
“For millions of citizens, this mandate is nowhere close to being realised.”
The Consulta reports notes that the 2021 research indicates that local government is running out of road.
Will citizens use their vote to voice their dissatisfaction?
“As citizens get ready to head to the polls for local municipal elections … on 1 November, there is every expectation that the growing levels of citizen dissatisfaction will manifest in their votes, or lack thereof. The reality is that service delivery has decreased to substantially below acceptable benchmarks in any industry or sector,” according to the report.
It refers to Mangaung’s rapid decline as an example, saying it “represents catastrophic levels in citizen satisfaction by any measure”.
“The reality is that if the satisfaction scores across all metros were present in any private sector, such entities would not exist in any shape or format in a competitive market environment where consumers, or citizens, have freedom of choice,” says Doren.
It is impossible to disagree with Doren. My personal experience has shown that residents are also to blame for the trajectory of municipalities – by voting for useless local representatives in the local elections (happening within days).
During my five-year stint as a ward councillor, several of the serving councillors were illiterate and thus unable to read the agendas and items therein that required council approval.
Yet these councillors had to authorise – or could veto – plans put forward by professional and experienced council officials, such as intricate budget proposals presented by a team of accountants or huge engineering projects tailored by engineers to ensure long term water supply.
The result is that money was often diverted to social spending.
Facts and figures were routinely ignored and important decisions were driven by emotions and political alliances in a council that was, at the time, ruled by a coalition of four different parties.
A story from back then illustrates the inefficiency of decision making in a political environment: Councillors once voted to force the civil engineering department to reduce the diameter of a new main water line to save money, despite the pleadings of the team of qualified engineers and their decades’ worth of experience.
The Consulta poll shows that citizens’ satisfaction levels are exceptionally low and that trust in municipalities’ ability to deliver is severely eroded. The report notes that all metros showed a decline in overall citizen satisfaction compared with 2020, except Nelson Mandela Bay, which showed a marginal improvement of 0.7 index points in its score.
The only metro performing above and significantly ahead of par is Cape Town at nearly 62 points. Ekurhuleni is on par at 52.2 but declined by a significant 6.2 points on its 2020 score. Nelson Mandela Bay (50.5) and eThekwini (50.1), and Tshwane (50) are also on par, while City of Johannesburg (47.2), Buffalo City (44) and Mangaung (32.6) come in well below par.
Mangaung, already on a very low satisfaction score in 2020, decreased a further 6.3 index points to only 32.6, the lowest score recorded across all sectors in SA. It is also the lowest score in the world among the 23 international markets where the research model is used.
Mangaung shows a marked and rapid decline over a five-year period from 51.3 in 2017.
Expectation versus actual experience
The different areas measured by the poll all showed deterioration. The overall satisfaction score is heavily influenced by the significant gaps in citizens’ Expectation versus Perceived Quality, which measures what citizens expect versus what they actually experience in terms of service delivery.
The overall expectations index has declined by an alarming 10 index points to 63.2, from a par of 73.4 in 2020, signalling a worrying breakdown in citizens’ trust in their metro’s ability to deliver services, according to the report.
“What is notable is that the gap between citizen expectations and perceived quality remains wide, even though citizen expectations have actually declined,” says Doren.
“Essentially it means that most metros are not meeting their citizen expectations even off a significantly lower base.”
The report concludes that residents have actually given up on expecting anything better from their metros.
City of Johannesburg (-9.2), eThekwini (-10.3), Tshwane (-11.3) and Mangaung (-15.9) reflect substantial lapses between expectations and actual perceived quality of service delivery.
Residents’ evaluation of detailed service quality – including aspects such as refuse removal, maintenance of and the building of new roads, keeping parks neat and tidy, providing clean drinking water, and access to electricity, sewage, storm water drainage and street lighting – shows that Cape Town is the only metro that delivers on every one of these measures at margins significantly above par.
Mangaung performs well below par, with citizens indicating that service delivery has collapsed.
Complaint incidence and handling
Consulta also asked respondents about their experience relating to the handling of complaints. Once again, Mangaung has the lowest complaint handling score of 21.9, well below the par score of 35.7 and a high complaint incidence of 53.9 which indicates that citizen complaints remain largely unresolved.
eThekwini has the highest complaint incidence rate (nearly 58%), followed by Tshwane (55%), Mangaung (54%), Ekurhuleni (52.3%), Cape Town (48%), Johannesburg (47.4%), Buffalo City (41%) and Nelson Mandela Bay (34.4%) with the lowest incidence rate.
Buffalo City has the best complaint handling score (48.1) followed by Cape Town (44) and Ekurhuleni (38.1), Nelson Mandela Bay (37.9) and Tshwane (36.6).
eThekwini (32.6), Johannesburg (28.6) and Mangaung (21.9) all perform below par on complaint handling.
In terms of citizens’ top-of-mind mentions or complaints, water supply is the leading issue for all citizen complaints, followed by electricity supply and refuse removal.
Another measure, Citizen Trust, has declined to its lowest point since the index’s inception, dropping to a par of 53.6 in 2021, from 60.7 in 2020 and just below 65 in 2017.
Residents still trust the Cape Town metro (trust index at 65.1 is almost 12 index points above par and at least 10 index points ahead of other metros), while Mangaung comes in last again with a score of only 38.4 out of 100.
“Citizen trust in the ability of municipalities to deliver to expectations shows a continued sharp decline year-on-year and should be cause for significant concern and intervention. The results pose an important question on whether service delivery is a priority for numerous municipalities and whether they can justify their existence to its citizens,” says Doren.
She adds that the research has shown that citizens want responsive, accountable, effective and efficient local government.
“The results of this index point to a growing dissatisfaction over the past couple of years of a decreasing trend in value for money on service delivery that citizens fund through payment of utility accounts, rates and taxes.
“The time has come for local government management to take accountability for their mandated functions and responsibilities or face the growing defection of residents and businesses from dysfunctional municipalities to [better-run] councils, resulting in continuous erosion of servicing revenue streams – all of this has massive implications for local economies.”
Listen: Consulta Senior Consultant Natasha Doren on trust in local municipalities dropping to a five-year low: