This article appeared in The Herald on 14 March 2012.
Last week the Port Elizabeth beachfront, I understand from locals, was uncharacteristically still and serene. The waves glistened, the sun beamed and the surfers were surely moving in slow motion. Only a few cars crawled past, none in a hurry.
This idyllic seaside scene, however, contrasts sharply with what we in the rest of the country regularly see of the Eastern Cape in the media, and confirms the complexities and contradictions of this province.
Recent national focus has been on the provincial education department, and the early months of 2012 have already seen teachers on strike and ‘go-slows’. Poor performance from this department required national government intervention in 2011.
Incorporating much of the former Transkei ‘homelands’ areas, the Eastern Cape is home to a higher proportion of children and older persons, and a lower proportion of adults of working age, than the national average. The province also hosts many of the country’s poorest citizens – in conditions that Premier Noxolo Kiviet described in her recent State of the Province Address as ‘endemic rural poverty’ – and is the destination for nearly 2.7 million social grants in 2011/2012, second only in numbers to KwaZulu-Natal. It is the recipient of one of the highest provincial transfers from national government at R56.6 billion, but is also among the lower contributors to national revenue and GDP. According to Kiviet, low growth levels and high unemployment remain serious challenges in the province.
Kiviet’s State of the Province Address also tackled issues of the public service in the Eastern Cape where, as in some other parts of the country, she reports that fraud and corruption are ‘rampant’ in the health department in particular. Her proposed reform agenda includes a ‘quest to improve the discipline of getting things done in the public service’ and intensified efforts to ‘transform the culture of entitlement to output and people-oriented culture’.
These challenges are indeed stark, and the results of the latest round of the national SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey conducted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in 2011 suggest that problems of performance and delivery may have detracted from confidence in public institutions, leadership and the ability of citizens to participate and effect meaningful change.
Across many of the branches of government – the presidency, as well as the national, provincial and local spheres – confidence levels among Eastern Cape residents fall below those recorded in a number of other provinces. Differences between the Eastern Cape and the rest of the country are even more pronounced where provincial and local government are evaluated in particular. While 56% of South Africans say they are confident in provincial government, this is true of only 46% in the Eastern Cape. And though 44% of South Africans express confidence in local government – a figure that is already too low – only 29% in the Eastern Cape feel this way.
Explanations of these very low levels of confidence can perhaps be found in part in positive evaluations of service delivery in which, according to 2011 data from the Ipsos Khayabus, the province also falls short of national averages – although it is important to note that some of these goods and services are in fact the mandate of national government departments. For example, only 39% of Eastern Cape residents evaluate health care delivery positively compared with 51% nationally, and 47% indicate approval of education compared to 58% nationally. Positive evaluations of basic service delivery are at 41%, compared with 47% nationally.
This is perhaps not difficult to understand, when in 2010, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Yunus Carrim indicated that only 33% of Eastern Cape residents have access to all four basic services: water, sanitation, electricity and refuse removal, compared with 54% across the whole of South Africa.
The good news, perhaps remarkably, is that Eastern Cape residents do not appear to be markedly less trusting of leadership or public officials themselves than in other provinces. Only 36% feel that there is no way to make disinterested public officials listen to the concerns of ordinary citizens, compared to 44% nationally and a high of 54% in KwaZulu-Natal. About half (49%) agree that national officials and leaders are not concerned about ordinary South Africans – and while a worrying finding, this is consistent with the national average of 51%.
However, confidence in the ability of citizens to bring about change is low, and only 28% in the Eastern Cape agree that they have the power to influence decisions made at local government level that affect the communities in which they live.
It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that citizens are slightly more likely than those in the rest of the country to view participation in both demonstrations (50%) and strikes (51%) as more justifiable than South Africans in other parts of the country.
I presented a selection of these findings at a series of briefings at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) last week, co-hosted by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD). In a presentation to students organised by SASCO, my co-presenter and I were confronted with a number of challenging questions: ‘we know about the situation in the Eastern Cape, what you are presenting is nothing new to us’, we were told. ‘But what do we do to change this situation, and how do we create opportunities for youth to stay in this province, contribute to its growth and development, and take up jobs in the public service that make it stronger and more responsive to people’s needs?’
Unfortunately, our survey results do not give us these answers. But if the motivation, energy and intellect of the students we encountered at NMMU can be harnessed and used for the improvement of the province, it seems that positive change may still be on the horizon.