The best and worst municipalities in South Africa’s biggest cities

Consulta’s 8th South African Citizen Satisfaction Index (SAcsi) shows that Citizen Satisfaction and trust in local municipalities to deliver basic services has dropped to its lowest ebb since the index’s inception.

Of the eight metropolitan municipalities polled in the Citizen Satisfaction Index in 2021, it is clear that they are falling far short of meeting citizen’s expectations, with the results being 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.

The SAcsi for Municipalities 2021 measures the Citizen Satisfaction and trust in service delivery in eight category-A municipalities (‘metros’) as a snapshot – Buffalo City, Cape Town, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Johannesburg, Mangaung, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane.

The total sample size was 2,537, with interviews conducted online and telephonically during Q3 of 2021 across the metros.

In the 2021 Citizen Satisfaction Index, Cape Town again emerges as the leader on overall Citizen Satisfaction for the fifth consecutive year. Cape Town recorded a score of 61,9 out of a possible 100 – although showing a four-point decline on its previous score of 66,0 in 2020.

Cape Town is also more than 10-points above the same level score of 51,1 for all municipalities and well ahead of all other metros polled, which perform either on or below par. The Citizen Satisfaction Index 2021 also shows that municipalities recorded the lowest satisfaction scores by a far margin for all industry sectors tracked by the SAcsi and Consulta.

“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 (perceived by the citizen), meeting their needs and reliability.

“Overall, the below-par performance is driven by the widely held negative perception of reliability of services, many of which are teetering on or have collapsed in many local councils,” said Natasha Doren, senior consultant at Consulta.

“When you look at what the drivers are behind satisfaction levels – or lack thereof – citizen mentions related to the basics that underpin the very existence of a municipality – water supply and management, electricity supply, garbage/refuse disposal, road maintenance, clean streets and suburbs, and reliable billing.”

These, said Doren, 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. For millions of citizens, this mandate is nowhere close to being realised, she added.

The 2021 index indicates that local government is fast running out of road. 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, said Doren.

“For example, Mangaung’s rapid decline 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”.

Overall citizen satisfaction score

The overall Citizen Satisfaction level, as an average across all metros, is low at 51.1 – further declining from 55.7 in 2020 and reaching the lowest point in five years. This score indicates that citizens’ satisfaction levels are exceptionally low, and trust in the municipalities’ ability to deliver is severely eroded, said Doren.

All metros showed a decline in overall citizen satisfaction scores compared with 2020, except Nelson Mandela Bay, which showed a marginal improvement of 0.7 index points, pointing to a slight positivity increase.

The only metro performing above and significantly ahead of par is Cape Town at 61.9 – also the only leader in the Citizen Satisfaction Index. However, Cape Town still showed a decline of 4.1 index points compared with its 2020 score of 66, the index showed.

Ekurhuleni is on par at 52.2 and losing its previous leader position after declining by a significant -6.2 on its 2020 score. Nelson Mandela Bay (50.5) and Ethekwini (50.1), and Tshwane (50.) are also on par, while the 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 the lowest score recorded across all sectors in South Africa and any of the indices in the 23 international markets where the model is utilised. Mangaung shows a marked and rapid decline over a five-year period from 51.3 in 2017, noted Doren.

Perceived quality

The overall satisfaction score is heavily influenced by the significant gaps in the citizen expectation versus perceived quality. This 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.

“This sharp drop in citizen expectations signals a worrying breakdown in citizens’ trust in their metro’s ability to deliver services,” said Doren.

What is notable is that the gap between citizen expectations and perceived quality remains wide at -8.5 as a sector par score, even though citizen expectations have actually declined. Essentially it means that most metros are not meeting their citizen expectations even off a significantly lower base.

“Lowered expectations indicate that many citizens have lost trust and 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.

The actual perceived quality measure (what citizens perceive to get) is at a par of 54.8 – also showing a sharp decline from 2020’s score of 60.5. Cape Town leads on perceived quality at 64.4 and is well ahead of par (54.8).

Mangaung has plummeted to its lowest ebb on perceived quality at 34.3 and Buffalo City 43.6 – both significantly below par of 54.8.

Ekurhuleni follows at 58.4 and Nelson Mandela Bay at 56.3 – the only other metros on par on perceived quality. eThekwini (54.2), Tshwane (52.2), Johannesburg (51.3), Buffalo City (43.6) and Mangaung (34.3) all perform below par.

Customer expectations are highest in Cape Town (71.3) and lowest in Mangaung (50.2) and Buffalo City (51.6).

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The best and worst municipalities in South Africa’s biggest cities