Ladies and gentlemen
There can be no important responsibility than that of communicating with the masses of our people about the developments taking place in their own communities and affecting their lives. Local government remains strategic in this regard.
South Africa’s local Governments are the spheres of government which are closest to the people and deal most directly with the people. A local government is responsible for true democracy and mass participation amongst each of South Africa’s citizens within their specific locality.
Not all Local governments provide a platform for effective citizen participation, but it is the government’ s mandate and main aspiration to make sure that the case is different in South Africa, through the improved and thorough utilization the of Local Governments. Therefore, this makes communications and collaboration at local government level very important, not only as a means of feedback to the state, but in terms of making sure that the needs of the people are met reciprocally.
Local government is especially important because it involves the election of representatives who are elected by the people of that particular community at the level of the ward. It means that you have freely chosen who must lead you, which reflects the highest level of democracy, a long-term goal in a recently democratic South Africa.
As it has been mentioned already, the driving force of local government is the communication between the people and the local government itself. Matters of importance like policy formulation are a very large part of local government in South Africa. Policy is important because it outlines the measures and specifics that are to be taken with regards to any issue at hand.
For any local policy to come into formation, local government is responsible for ensuring the active participation of its wards, regarding the specific policy. This is a vital mandate of local government, and effective two way communication is imperative to ensure that no gaps exists between the needs and the delivery. Failure to participate will mean non-effective and non-specific policies which will likely fail to benefit their intended wards.
Communication is therefore the main driving force to which a relationship between the citizens and local government can be fostered. There are various means of communication between the people and their local governments, but these means need to be nurtured, so that they are effective and worthy in bringing about the desired change for every South African.
As citizens, we have the obligation and responsibility to show an interest and participation in the communication with our local governments, so that the government can do its level best to attend to the citizens’ needs and wants. By expressing your views as South Africans, you have a say in important political and social matters, which are the driving force of public and government decisions at large and ultimately.
An example of a traditional means of collaboration between local government and its wards is the ‘imbizo;’ a well known forum for discussion and participation between the village leaders and its dwellers. In recent years, the Imbizo has escalated to a public participation forum for local government and its occupants, where grievances, concerns and other urgent matters are discussed in the hopes of achieving a way forward. Although the ‘imbizo’ is still rife and effective, traditional measures of participation are swiftly dwindling. This is no reason for citizens to sit back and neglect to participate in matters that affect their own lives, an important feature of a democratic government.
We do recognize and take note of the fact that due to the ongoing globalization and technological advancements, the government realizes that traditional means of communication between these two entities are fast fiddling out. Technology has become more convenient as people’s lives have become increasingly busy, leaving them little time to concentrate on things which may be easy to ignore like participation within their local governments. The government has recognized this shift, and is doing its best to respond to this growing need for more technological association in government matters, so that our people still have time for the other important activities that fill their lives.
It is important to note though, that local government is limited to react to the needs of each locality it serves, so certain advancements and techniques will only move in so much as the populace needs. It does not make sense to submit suggestions via a suggestion box in Johannesburg, where most people are technologically savvy and can easily drop suggestions right to the governments email yet on the other hand, it would make sense to use this form of communication in a rural setting, where information technology is still struggling to take off.
Local Government has the responsibility to communicate and collaborate with the public, which is done in a number of different ways. One such important means is community media. Community media reflects a type of media that is set and run by those within the community, so it is built entirely for their service. This is perfect as local government is also answerable to the people of its set locality.
The government has introduced a number of measures to make sure that local government communication networks continue to thrive. For example, in the Eastern Cape there are quarterly meetings with regards to the forum to strengthen Local Government communications work. Furthermore, a monthly teleconference to streamline communications strategizing at local level is put into place. Therefore, it is important for local government to strategize and budget for communications, as this is a vital element of their continuation.
Due to the legacy of apartheid, there are huge disparities between rich and poor in South Africa. Certain regions developed at a quicker pace, while others remained stagnant, a large feature of the apartheid geography, which is still evident. One has only to look at the differences between the Eastern Cape and the Gauteng Provinces, where Gauteng developed faster due to its natural resources, while the Eastern Cape lagged behind.
Furthermore, rural areas were left undeveloped, while the urban areas quickly developed. The urban areas were mostly occupied by white people, while black people were left to fill the rural areas. This resulted in a situation where the poorer citizens were alienated from matters of governance and their development. Although democracy is now a reality in South Africa, these conditions still moderately remain, and through communication, these gaps can be filled.
In a study conducted by the Mutale Municipality, of the Vhembe District in the Limpopo province; it was discovered that government had put certain communications measures in place. Sadly, the study revealed that there was still a communication inconsistency between government bodies and communities. The government is aware of this and is instilling further measures to supplement this communication break, which affects the level of excellence at which each local government can operate. If this communication fracture continues; the people will feel even more alienated and may not feel the need to take an active role in participation, which is unfortunate as they will be unable to have an effect on changing their social conditions, another mandate of local government.
Local government, through critical communications measures will address these problems, by employing democratic intervention and participation, a measure that serves to bring government closer to the people; given their active involvement in the decision making process. For a local government to thrive, complete transparency and accountability are the order of the day. This mission can only be achieved through the effective and extensive use of communications resources.
As a mandate, local government seeks to promote sustainable community development. This kind of development can only be reached through the participation of the people. You are the ones who know what is sustainable, what is operational and what is desirable. Without communication between these two entities, it may be difficult to reach this goal. This kind of collaboration is therefore very imperative.
Information obtained from international studies relating to several countries shows that there is a general lack of communication among departments at local government level. This is a very serious problem, and may result in the distortion and disintegration of valuable information. This is a lesson for South Africa, and an effective communication approach is therefore necessary in this regard, where it does not only concern the outreach of local government, but internal government organization and administration itself.
Due to arising needs, on the 25th of May the president Jacob Zuma announced the formation of a new communications ministry which is responsible for “overarching communication policy and strategy, information dissemination and publicity as well as the branding of the country abroad.” Under the communications ministry is the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) and lastly Brand South Africa.
The MDDA is particularly important for local government, as it funds one of its main drivers which is community media. The use of television, newspapers, radio and others is the best way local governments can employ to pass relevant messages to its wards. Furthermore, it encourages the control of and access to media for the disadvantaged, which adds a further element of sustainability. Locales are more likely to support a media company that is owned by one of their own, as opposed to ownership by large multinationals which may not necessarily be concerned with the spread of development communication
ICASA, which has the mandate of regulating telecommunication and broadcasting with relation to the public good, may be used as a viable tool in the regulation of information that does not serve to build but destroys. Let this not be confused with the idea of a media with a lack of creative freedom, as this is not ICASA’s directive. At municipal level, this comes in handy, and maps out suitable criterion with relation to community media.
The SABC’s main objective is broadcasting throughout South Africa and beyond. For the purposes of local government and how the SABC can be utilized. As the SABC’s reach goes beyond community level and national level, it is the perfect driver of communications within South Africa. However, at local level, these services can still be utilized to spread information that is not easily accessible through community media, and therefore acts as a general supplement. Its wide reach covers television and radio, the most popular means of communication in the contemporary period, giving it more rank with the masses.
The GCIS is tasked with providing development communication to the public. Development information is directed to the underprivileged, so this information will ensure that the public has information at their disposal, information that can allow and furnish the people with real opportunities to make actual changes to their lives. However, at provincial or national level, this task may seem tedious and expansive. But, by employing the use of community media and its counterparts, at local government level this type of communication and collaboration moves easily and becomes more relevant with each locality.
It only makes sense then that there is great potential for the partnership between community media and local governments. Our community media therefore needs to be strengthened and invested in, because this will have the trickledown effect of resulting in the easiest way for local government and the people to communicate. However, the aim of the government is not have any form of political influence on these types of media, and this must be noted.
As fellow South Africans, it is important then to realize the tremendously big role local government can play in reorganizing and making our lives as citizens better. Sustainability and development are the most important positive changes at this juncture. For these changes to take place, communications and collaboration at local government level is very important, and is the necessary driver for a more inclusive and beneficial democracy. Furthermore, it can go a long way in righting the wrongs of the past and fixing the prevailing and at times perpetuating apartheid geography.
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Issued by Ministry of Communications