There have been significant shifts in the policy environment of South Africa that are transforming the way citizen engagement takes place in the country. However, high income inequality in South Africa extends to the differentiated experiences of ICT-mediated engagement amongst citizens. ICT response mechanisms are not well defined with respect to sub-populations who may work or live in less formalised and undocumented settings.
This Brief looks at the case study of the Phephanathi project. implemented in Warwick market, one of the largest inner city 'informal' open air markets in Durban. Informal traders were encouraged to re-imagine their work-place as safe spaces where they enjoy rights to their occupational health. The project used participatory mapping to help establish mechanisms for traders to work with the municipality, via the NGO Asiye eTafuleni, on their health and safety needs. ICTs are used to send messages related to health to traders and to get feedback from traders through geo-tagging of health and safety hazards in the market.
What the case study has demonstrated is that ICTs can be used to legitimise the public resources needed for safe and healthy work spaces for informal traders. Findings however suggest that further ICT training is necessary to improve the online dialogue between traders and local government, enabling the former to demand improved sanitation and health service delivery. Also, high cost of data and telephonic connectivity limits the participation of traders.
As a pilot project, this initiative opens up possibilities for traders to re-imagine ways of engaging with government and demonstrating alternative forms of governance where public services are non-existent. An approach that blends ICT strategies with face-to-face dialogue can certainly enhance citizen engagement. However, in informal settings, this needs a carefully planned, incremental transition with regard to the use of ICTs. It also needs allocation of resources towards digital training and to make public WiFi free.