Service delivery inequality in South African municipal areas: A new way to account for inter-jurisdictional differences

Type Journal Article - Urban Studies
Title Service delivery inequality in South African municipal areas: A new way to account for inter-jurisdictional differences
Volume 53
Issue 15
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2015
Page numbers 3336-3355
Service delivery in South African municipal areas differs widely across jurisdictional boundaries. The paper illustrates the potential of geo-spatial mapping to quantify and map service delivery inequality at local municipal level in order to differentiate policy interventions. Data from a national 2007 South African survey were analysed to assess absolute levels and relative inequality of service delivery at district and local municipality levels. Not surprisingly, the results showed a wide variation in absolute service delivery levels when comparing richer urban districts to poorer rural ones. Service delivery inequality, however, was low in the richest urban districts, as well as the poorest rural ones. Conversely, service delivery inequality was highest in the more recently industrialised districts that contained both urban and rural municipalities. The scatter distribution of service delivery inequality versus absolute levels of service delivery appears to largely support Kuznets’ (1955) inverse U theory of inequality. Further analysis and discussion of the findings, however, illustrates that urban planners in both rich and poor South African municipalities are confronted with a number of dilemmas.

Keywords local municipality, policy, service delivery inequality, South Africa
The unprecedented growth of inequality has become a global challenge that affects both rich and poor countries (Forster, 2006; Kanbur and Zhang, 2005; Musterd and Ostendorf, 2013). In many instances, the widening inequality gap in developing countries is closely mirrored by rapid urbanisation and industrialisation (Stiglitz, 2012). Urban planners are confronted with a dilemma that must balance the development of ‘desirable’ modern cities with the equity needs of the poor (Fainstein, 2000; Watson, 2009b). The allocation of public resources, however, is mostly prioritised for areas with economic potential in which services delivered can be matched with tax contributions (Hero, 1986; Warner and Hefetz, 2002). Poorer urban areas are often compromised because of this planning ‘tension’ and households in these wards are unable to fund any viable alternatives (Hastings, 2009). A combination of factors, moreover, perpetuates this inequality because differential access to economic resources has a detrimental effect on household health and economic productivity (Deaton, 2013; Sen, 2003; Townsend, 1987).

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