Access to information is a vital key to development

The inconvenience of visiting a website and finding it long overdue for an update is the daily reality faced by many people in business, media, civil society or the general public trying to obtain information from some government departments’ websites.

Alive to this daily reality, Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi has now called upon local government “to make sure that their websites are well developed and populated with information.”

Muthambi told the Villages, Townships and Small Dorpies Economic (VTSD) Economic Lekgotla in Mmabatho last week what she had observed after she had taken a cursory look at certain government websites.

“I visited websites of several municipalities, local, districts and metros. More than 50% of the sites were not updated and most were very thin on issues of economic development,” she said.

“I am aware that different municipalities have many programmes and projects that they undertake to develop and empower their communities, but not much is said or disseminated to the residents. A community which is not informed is a brewing pot of disgruntlement. Let us keep our communities informed through the available platforms,” said Muthambi.

Community media

The minister had some good news for local and community media in the Bokone Bophirima province, which will benefit from a government drive to ensure they get a generous part of the government’s advertising revenue pie, which will help to sustain their operations.

“…we hope that the North West Provincial government would assist in ensuring that at least 30% of the provincial and local government advertising budget is directed towards community media as defined by the Media Development and Diversity Act, Act, No.14 of 2002. We are doing this because community media is an important layer of the three-tier system of broadcasting,” said Muthambi.

She said: “The ministry is committed to the establishment of a strong and vibrant community media sector that is significantly contributing to the development of a democratic South Africa. This will create job opportunities for locals and help locals tell their own stories.”

Muthambi said the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) is already supporting has six community print media and 16 community radio station projects in the province.

“Through GCIS [Government Communication and Information System] media buying, government departments placed R36-million in community media during the 2015/16 financial year,” said Muthambi, adding that provincial support for community media is inadequate.

She urged the provincial authorities to follow the declaration of 2017 as The Year of Communication with concrete action to support community media.

“We already know that these media platforms are effective,” she said, citing a GCIS and department of correctional services joint initiative in the Matlosana Local Municipality.

A solutions-based project

Muthambi said through the project, they provided a platform on community radio for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in Kanana, a township ravaged by gang-related violence, to participate in developing solutions towards the problems in their community.

Muthambi said the national government has, through the GCIS, created centres of information in all the nine provinces. She said the centres, known as Thusong Service Centres in Bokone Bophirima “were created to provide information to the immediate communities.”

“If we are to keep and achieve the promises made in the United Nations-adopted Sustainable Development Goals to reduce poverty and improve the people’s lives, then we as policymakers must recognise the key and strategic role that information and communication plays in development,” she said.

Information for empowerment of the poor

She said access to relevant information can help to turn the tide against poverty in rural communities.

She said as many as 28-million South Africans are living in poverty and that about 18-million people live in the poorest 40% of households, and 10-million people live in the poorest 20% of households, classified as ultra-poor.

Muthambi said 45% of the country’s population lives in rural areas. In these areas, the proportion of people falling below the poverty line is 71%.

“We know that access to relevant information can lift rural communities out of poverty by empowering them with the tools to make choices that can provide them with sustainable livelihoods,” she said.

Small-scale farming initiative

Highlighting the impact of the exchange of information, Muthambi revealed that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has committed to procure more of agricultural produce from local farmers following a GCIS initiative in the Dr Kenneth Kaunda District Municipality in October.

She said the event which was to mark Farmers’ Day and create awareness on climate change, led to the SANDF assessing and later committing to procure from local farmers.

“This will improve the sustainability of small scale farming in the province,” she said.

“Villages, Townships and Small Dorpie development is a necessary process to improve the quality of life and economic wellbeing of people living in relatively isolated and sparsely populated areas. The Ministry of Communication, through its departments and entities extends a hand of partnership to the province to fulfil the NDP’s vision of building a better South Africa. A South Africa where the potential of all its citizens can be harnessed to transform the economy to reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment,” said Muthambi.

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Lucas Ledwaba
Lucas Ledwaba
Journalist and author of Broke & Broken - The Shameful Legacy of Gold Mining in South Africa.

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