TRANSFORMATION VIA COMMUNICATION

The GCIS recently launched its leading-edge app, GovChat

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The GCIS recently launched its leading-edge app, GovChat, which will allow for active and direct engagement between the public and municipal representatives.

While South Africa has become notorious as the protest capital of the world following service delivery and accessibility protests over recent years, The Department of Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) has taken a positive step forward in terms of engaging the public on their concerns with the launch of the first-of-its-kind GovChat app. In September this year, The Department of Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) officially launched GovChat, the world’s first government-led social media platform that encourages active engagement with local government in real time. Citizens can now search for their ward councillors as well as other elected representatives and will be able to engage with them to address concerns including unemployment job creation access to housing, water and electricity and safety within communities.

GovChat allows for citizens to send images, photos, videos, public and private messages in real time directly to their ward councillors and intends to break barriers and support civic engagement through an interactive platform that encourages accountability and active citizenship. It further provides the opportunity for ordinary citizens to influence decision-making and resource allocation in their communities, towns and cities. The platform is putting a face to the people’s concerns and encourages active citizenry that holds public officials accountable. This initiative was rolled out during the 2016 national Public Service Month which took place across the country from 1 to 30 September under the theme: Moving the Public Service Forward: “We Belong, We Care, We Serve”. It is used to highlight government services, dedication, commitment and excellence in the delivery of services to the public. The Public Service Charter is popularised throughout the month to ensure that public servants deliver appropriate services and fight corruption.

GCIS says Government believes that active citizenry and social activism is necessary for democracy and development to flourish. The National Development Plan (NDP) states that government “cannot merely act on behalf of the people”. According to GCIS it will be supporting the integration of GovChat into other government service programmes in support of Government’s Back to Basics approach that ensures communities receive quality services. Ward councillors, irrespective of political affiliation are encouraged to register.“We are pleased that Salga has integrated GovChat as a valuable communications tool that will connect citizens to their local ward councillors,” said GCIS director-general Donald Liphoko. “It will go a long way in bridging the divide between the electorate and public representatives. The service will improve for the better as councillors will be at the frontline of providing instant and credible information to the people they serve,” GCIS said.

GCIS has also signed an important Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with GovChat in the form of an open government partnership. According to the South African Government it believes that active citizenry and social activism is necessary for democracy and development to flourish. The National Development Plan (NDP) states that government “cannot merely act on behalf of the people—it has to act with the people, working together with other institutions to provide opportunities for the advancement of all communities”.

GCIS announced that the platform was part of the South African Local Government Association’s (SALGA) induction programme which took place on the 1st of September 2016. Ward councillors, irrespective of political affiliation were encouraged to register. The platform is promoting engagement with all citizens and will act as a yard stick for accountability.

The stakeholders involved are:

  • The South African Local Government Association (SALGA);
  • The Department of Government Communication and Information System (GCIS);
  • The Department of Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation (DPME);
  • The Department of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs (Cogta); and
  • State Owned Enterprises Communication Association (SOECA)

GCIS also pointed out that South Africans are becoming increasingly connected with more than 26 million active internet users, 13 million of whom are active social media users. The plan for the near future is to make GovChat available on Android and iOS devices. It is estimated that over 85 million mobile connections exist in the country and government has acknowledged and supports the transformational power of technology. Active social media users are growing at a rate of over 10% year on year in South Africa. It is estimated that South Africans spend just under three hours a day on the internet and social media using their mobile phones.

In a recent TimesLive article by Dominic Mahlangu that reported on the new app, Tahir Sema, Salga’s national spokesman, said the organisation was worried that a lack of communication created problems in communities. Sema said GovChat would assist in bridging the communications gap and enable councillors to interact more effectively with ratepayers. “GovChat will assist the 10 000 councillors now undergoing training to communicate better with ratepayers.” Salga began its councillor induction programme last month. It is intended to orientate councillors, many of them elected to municipal office for the first time in the recent polls, on their roles and responsibilities.

Sema said Salga’s objective was to transform local government by building “good governance and professionalising the sector”. As South Africa continues to be engulfed by service delivery protests it remains to be seen whether the new crop of councillors will be able to respond effectively to residents’ concerns. Sema also said that, as a result of innovation and the provision of better tools to councillors, Salga hoped there would be fewer service delivery protests. The ANC has also commended SALGA and the GCIS upon the launch of GovChat. “The promise we made to our voters that local government was going to be in their hands was not just an election gimmick. Also, when we announced that our elected representatives were going to be accountable to the people, we meant it. We therefore welcome Govhat with open arms and say it couldn’t have come at an opportune time,” says ANC national spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa.

Kodwa said government will improve for the better as councillors will be at the frontline of providing instant and credible information to the people they serve: as GovChat aims to break barriers of communication and support civic engagement. For the ANC, GovChat will serve as a monitoring mechanism to ensure accountability and transparency. “The ANC applauds this commitment to attending to all concerns raised by our communities. And, it will also assist in following up on service delivery issues raised in different parts of the country before matters escalate to the burning of state properties like we have witnessed in the recent past in areas such as Vuwani and lately, the University of KwaZulu-Natal,” Kodwa said.

How to get the app

  • Visit www.govchat.org.za and choose the registration button.
  • Fill in your account details and choose a password you’ll remember easily.
  • Set up your profile and share your location.
  • Set up your membership.
  • Agree to the terms and conditions and click on ‘complete sign up’.
  • Once you receive the activation email and follow the directions, you are able to join the conversation.
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