Access to information for community participation to enhance service delivery in uMshwathi Local Municipality.
Khanyile, Ralph Mafezwe.
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In South Africa, access to information, and community participation in local government matters during the Apartheid era, was reserved for the White minority, with all other races excluded. This was owing to the Apartheid laws that only catered for the White minority, while denying most inhabitants of the country, including Indians, Coloureds, and Blacks, their political rights and participation in their own governance. At the end of Apartheid in the 90s, the newly elected democratic government implemented policies whose purpose was to redress the imbalances of the past, with community access to public information amongst the new policies. Even with the new policies which are meant to ensure that communities have access to information, there are still wide gaps that have resulted in endless service-delivery complaints. Such complaints sometimes lead to service-delivery protests, especially at local government level. On closer inspection, these protests and complaints are seen to be a result of lack of information, caused either by insufficient information being provided to members of the public regarding public services, or not being provided at all, and or lack of community participation in decision-making by the municipality regarding public services. This study explores the complexities of access to information that ensure communities within uMshwathi Local Municipality can express their views on the municipal services they receive. The study adopted a qualitative research design. Through this research design, data was collected per interviews and focus group discussions, evaluating the data to achieve a thematic analysis. This study found that technology is key to providing information, while community structures for providing information are weak. There are politics in providing/sharing information about public services; and attention to community concerns is lacking. The cascading of information to the public is politicised, while it is also delayed and outdated. The interaction between ward committees, community members, the elected councillors, and municipal officials is complex, while being challenged by finger-pointing and playing the ‘blame game’. The blame game is mostly about who is responsible for ensuring that members of the community have access to municipal information apropos of public services. Finally, the complaints-management system is egregious, and there is a need for training of ward committees, such being lacking.