Date added: July 5, 2017

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Greater ICT availability in South Africa suggests a growing possibility for citizens to use mobile phones and Internet to hold government accountable. However, there is a paucity of literature that
maps ICT-mediated engagement initiatives within marginalised sub-populations.

This study attempts to explore this gap, looking at an initiative in one of the largest informal markets of sub-Saharan Africa. The study provides analytical insights into ICT micro-level initiative, the 'Empowering Street Traders through Urban Disaster Risk Management' project, undertaken as a partnership between the non-governmental organization (NGO) Asiye eTafuleni, local market traders, and the metropolitan municipality.

Asiye eTafuleni, initiated the the broader Phephanathi occupational health and safety project, within which sits the 'Empowering Street Traders through Urban Disaster Risk Management' project. Implemented in eThekwini municipality, Durban, South Africa, this project explores ICT-mediated citizen engagement strategies for enhancing government accountability in public service delivery. More specifically, this initiative makes provisions for training and collective organising with the intention to equip street traders with digital evidence to support their demands for a healthy, sanitary and safe work environment. The informal traders creatively deployed Frontline SMS and the Ushahidi platforms for crowdsourcing feedback responses and engaged in participatory mapping exercises.

This case study attempts to address two main questions:

  • what is currently in place in terms of local government policy and related ICT citizen engagement around public service provision?
  • what are the possibilities of ICT tools for local market traders to hold government to account for service delivery such as public health provision?

Since traders in Warwick Junction are classified as informal workers, their claims to health and safe working environment has never been perceived by the authorities as fully legitimate.  Their 'invisibility' in the eyes of local government means that there is very limited responsiveness to requests for services and rights-claims from this population. The broader Phephanathi project asks traders to re-think their relationship with the municipality, re-imagine their citizenship roles, and re-articulate their health and safety concerns in the language of rights.

While the ICT interventions remained experimental, the attempt to collect data on the health and safety demands further shifts of power and practice in governance towards the traders' rights to a healthy work environment. Improving the ways in which traders can seek health and safety assistance is one step closer to shifting towards furthering the legitimacy of traders and for government to recognise their human rights.



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