Access to services exposes the deep-seated problems in local government 

The StatsSA 2021 General Household Survey (GHS) released today, confirms the investment in inappropriate services by municipalities over the last two decades. The GHS provides a snapshot of progress achieved in infrastructure services and also identifies service delivery gaps for policy intervention.

“The fact that only 14% of households have access to communal standpipes while 34,4% of households’ sole income is remittances and grants show that many households receive services higher than the basic services contemplated in national service delivery policies for poor households,” says Burgert Gildenhuys, director of BC Gildenhuys & Associates. “The result is that they cannot pay for services and directly contribute to the financial predicament of municipalities in South Africa.”

The survey revealed around 14% of households relied on a communal or neighbour’s tap as the main source of drinking water. The percentage of households with access to an improved source of water increased from 84,4% to 88,7% between 2002 and 2021. Despite these notable improvements, access to water actually declined in six provinces between 2002 and 2021. The declines, however, belie the fact that more households had access to piped water in 2021 than two decades earlier.

“This anomaly is a direct result of large-scale population shifts as a result of urbanisation aggravated by very low economic growth,” explains Gildenhuys.

According to the survey, the percentage of households with access to improved sanitation increased by 22,4 percentage points between 2002 and 2021, growing from 61,7% to 84,1 % through the provision and the efforts of government, support agencies and existing stakeholders.

The survey also showed that almost two-thirds of South African households now have access to flush toilets while 84,1% had access to improved sanitation. Less than 1% of South Africans have no access to sanitation facilities. StatsSA found that the installation of pit toilets with ventilation pipes played an important part in achieving the large improvements.

“Unfortunately, there remains an unfounded bias against ventilated improved pit latrines largely stoked for political purposes,” says Gildenhuys. “Rapid household growth and urbanisation, as well as a political preference for flush toilets contributed to the slow progress over the past two decades. Water scarcity and regular water interruptions should increasingly lead to the use of alternative sanitation technologies.

“However, one should not underestimate the impact of waterborne sanitation on current water scarcities aggravated by poor cost recovery and a lack of maintenance leading to unaccounted for water reaching 50% and finally resulting in incapable management,” he warns.

Looking at the most neglected service in municipalities, regular refuse removal services existed for only around 60% of households. Almost one-third (28,5%) of households used their own refuse dumps in the absence of services. Refuse removal was much more common in urban than in rural areas (85,4% compared to 11,8%), while 86,3% of households in metropolitan areas had access to these services.

Ineffective refuse removal directly contributes to environmental pollution and even the recent flooding with refuse clogging up stormwater systems.

“These figures provide national and provincial overviews but in interpreting these figures one should remember that there are substantial differences between provinces, urban, rural and farming areas,” says Gildenhuys. “Furthermore, service access topping 80% is exceptionally good for a developing country but in real terms, it still means that more than 3,5 million people have some or other challenge with access to services and housing.”

As a closing note BC Gildenthuys & Associates want to commend StatsSA for the quality data they have delivered as a service to South Africa over many decades.