THERE was a sharp spike in unpredictable and increasingly violent service delivery protests last year, with the Western Cape accounting for nearly a quarter of the incidents recorded by municipal data monitoring company Municipal IQ.

There are fears that these protests are becoming institutionalised as a legitimate form of action to express community grievances.

Municipal IQ said in a statement on Wednesday that service delivery protests last year accounted for 30% of community uprisings recorded since 2004.

In the second and third quarters of last year there were more protests than during any other quarter since 2004.

Most protests were sporadic and there were no properly legal application processes for them, which would have required the registration of the names of the organisers, Municipal IQ MD Kevin Allan said on Wednesday.

While this anonymity had given rise to suspicion that there was political instigation behind some of the protests, Mr Allan said there was "categorically" no "third force" in South Africa behind public demonstrations.

Instead, service delivery protests were becoming more institutionalised as a "legitimate call for action and a response to the genuine grievances of communities", he said.

Democratic Alliance leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said on Wednesday the protests in her province had not been about service delivery.

"The common denominator of all of these protests has been the prominent role of African National Congress local leaders and councillors," she said.

Citing an example of traffic lights that had been destroyed in a protest, Ms Zille said: "It is hard to explain why people destroy services in the name of service delivery protests."

She said the protests were part of the ANC’s plan to take back the Western Cape in the 2014 national elections.

"That does not mean to say that people do not have genuine grievances," Ms Zille said.

Electoral Institute for Sustainability of Democracy in Africa analyst Ebrahim Fakir said on Wednesday that the protests could either be sparked by genuine service delivery issues, a lack of government accountability or political agendas within and between political parties.

Municipal IQ’s research found that the Eastern Cape had the second-highest rate of protests last year, especially in Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

Gauteng, which like the Western Cape had a major challenge in providing services to large numbers of migrants from other provinces in search of economic opportunity, had seen a surge of protests in informal settlements.

But Mr Allan said Gauteng had dropped to third place in terms of service delivery protests. One reason was a clampdown by police, who were growing loath to give permission for community protests.

The ANC in Gauteng attributed the decline to the work of its new performance monitoring and evaluation unit, led by Kgosi Maepa.

Mr Maepa said recently that the unit was able to identify hot spots for protests by gathering information from ANC members and councillors.

This helped it to take active steps to address the problems of the affected communities and quell their appetite for taking to the streets.

Municipal IQ’s Karen Heese on Wednesday agreed that the unit had played a role, saying Gauteng had created platforms to "channel objections before people go to protest".

Mr Fakir said last year’s protests were sometimes a "flash in the pan" and uncoordinated.

In many instances, there was no sense of "organisation in hierarchical terms", as people took to the streets to vent their anger against the authorities, Mr Fakir said.