By Acting Cabinet Spokesperson Donald Liphoko
5 July 2016
The article by Sandile Ngidi on titled “SA’s failure to communicate” (Sunday Independent, July 3) is disconcerting and seeks to disempower South Africans as architects of our shared vision of a prosperous, democratically rooted nation.
It is a thinly veiled attempt to drag South Africans back to the hollow “big man-failed African state’’ construct where our collective woes, real or imagined, are conveniently transferred to the feet of a single individual or distant elite instead of reflecting on our own agency in the unfolding narrative.
While the recent violence in Tshwane was out of character with our democratic norms, it also remains true that the overwhelming majority of demonstrations in South Africa are peaceful and occur without infringing on the rights of fellow citizens.
The government is encouraged by the level of active citizenry, which is demonstrated every day by South Africans who express their views about the public services they receive in full, partially, or not at all. Volunteers from all walks of life participate in programmes to make South Africa a better place. Mass participation programmes, such as Play Your Part, Operation Hydrate, Crime Line, and Touching Lives, are flourishing in response to a call to partner with the government to meet the aspirations of all citizens.
This spirit of generosity, a hallmark of South Africans that is acknowledged the world over, places the country among the leading philanthropic nation. Perhaps we should pause to reflect on the increasing chasm between South Africans who choose to posture and bemoan the country’s reputation, and those who roll up their sleeves and give of themselves in pursuit of the ideal of a better life for all.
This brings us closer to the participatory democracy that is envisaged by the constitution and reflected in the National Development Plan. Campaigning in our local government elections will be exuberant and surprising. It will be loud and unpredictable, in keeping with our national character.
The contestation of ideas represented by 200 political parties presents South Africans with a choice at the polls, at 22 600 voting stations across 4 392 wards. Countless public servants, many of them volunteers, will be at work to ensure a record 26 333 353 registered voters have their say in an environment of free and fair elections – the fourth such election in our 22 years democracy.
The elections will draw widespread international attention. The world’s love story with our narrative of forgiveness and the triumph of the human spirit in pursuit of justice and equality remains a beacon of amid global gloom.
To this end, the GCIS and Brand South Africa have been communicating coherent and unified messages about the elections – encouraging South Africans to register to vote, about the government’s continuing preparations to secure a level playing field for all participants, and about our commitment to ensuring all citizens are and feel safe. Communicating the messages is possible only through collaboration with the 480 local and foreign newsrooms in our network, spanning community, commercial, public and state media.
These efforts are amplified through our 159 embassies and consulates who share our messaging with South Africa’s many friends abroad. The role of modern government communication is to facilitate partnerships between the government and citizens to create social value and well – being. It exists to inform people of the government, enabling them to participate fully as citizens.
This is far more than “damage control and reputation risk’’. Undoubtedly these have a place, but communication approach has always been overarching and all-inclusive. No quantity of tweets or Facebook likes will replace the hard work of development communication in constructing a new society. We are and always will be a government for the people that listens to all concerns and addresses them wherever possible.
Overwhelmingly, aggrieved communities and individuals express their dissatisfaction through a number of constructive platforms, including public participation forums, izimbizo, public hearings, customer service polls, hotlines and other processes, most notably the Community Survey.
In the case of Tshwane, the GCIS was at the forefront of facilitating communication between government and the people. Perhaps the writer missed our media statements condemning the violence and calling for calm. Conceivably, he may have overlooked the numerous media engagements through interviews on community radio and televisions, or the many GCIS news bulletins that were aired on community radio throughout the country.
It is possible he did not recognise the volume of traffic advisories, safety alerts, audiovisual content and dynamic responses emanating from GCIS to conversation on the #Tshwaneunrest timeline.
However, the writer concedes that the saw Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, State Security Minister David Mahlobo and Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula addresses the matter at one of many government media briefings. As he noted, they were visibly exhausted.
This was because they had criss-crossed communities in Atteridgeville, Hammanskraal and Mamelodi the day before, listening to citizens’ concerns. Mapisa-Nqakula said on behalf of the justice, crime prevention and security cluster: “The government has condemned, and continues to condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the violence and the destruction of property which occurred in these areas.
“Violence, damage to property and infrastructure and infringing on others’ rights and free movement, including incitement of others to commit these types of offences, will not be tolerated by law enforcement agencies. “Those who make themselves guilty of such acts will face the full might of the law.”
When one views these actions without a jaundiced eye, it becomes clear that the government took the lead in communication and did all it could to restore calm. These collective interventions can hardly be described as “a certain arrogance of power, if not utter disdain, characterised by a lukewarm attitude towards sharing information”.
The government would like to reassure the public that we will continue to fulfil our duty of informing and empowering citizens, using all platforms, leading up to the municipal elections and beyond.
Donald Liphoko is Acting Cabinet Spokesperson