From the 26th - 28th of February 2016, the South Africa History Archive (SAHA) attended, in Durban, as a founding member of the organization and an ongoing partner in the fight for greater access to information and transparency, the 6th National Summit of the Right 2 Know Campaign (R2K). One aspect of the Summit focused on the current state of access to information in South Africa and how R2K can act within the context of a prevailing culture of secrecy.
With the controversial 'Secrecy Bill' still looming large over South Africa, and the office of Information Regulator still not set-up and capable of acting as a watchdog institution around access to information, the R2K campaign stressed the need to remain vigilant against state intrusion on South Africans' right to know. However, despite these challenges to transparency and accountability, the Summit also looked back at some victories. In 2015 as a result of successful litigation by SAHA and R2K on a PAIA request submitted by SAHA on behalf of R2K, access was gained to the South African Police Service's list of National Key Points. R2K also lobbied for the immediate release of the Marikana Commission report.
There was also report back at the summit on R2K's partnership with SAHA on SAHA's pilot local government capacity building project. This project aimed to ensure better compliance with PAIA, both with respect to proactive disclosure and information requests, by providing local government officials with capacity building training and by creating awareness with those officials about community information needs. In order to gain an understanding of the actual information needs of communities in the municipal areas serviced by the municipalities trained by SAHA, R2K arranged for SAHA to meet with activists in those areas that R2K has been working with, so that SAHA could learn directly from the communities about their needs. This year SAHA is going into Phase 2 of the local government capacity building project and Freedom of Information Programme (FOIP) took the opportunity to meet over the weekend of the Summit, SAHA R2K organisers from KwaZulu-Natal to discuss specific ways in which SAHA and R2K can collaborate on this second phase of the project. These discussions were very productive and lead to the identification of communities within the province with whom SAHA could possibly work.
There was a lot of discussion at this year's Summit about the need to ensure that the organisational model ensures further community engagement. The vibrant discourse on the need to contextualise struggles for information within the wider movement towards national transparency, specifically, by devising a program which is responsive to local level challenges, ties in well with SAHA's ongoing work with community activists who seek to exercise their right of access to information at the local level. In fact, with South Africa heading to the polls this year to elect local government representatives there was a clear resolve amongst R2K members, and those attending as guests, to focus in 2016 on addressing issues at the local level.
In SAHA's experience many issues at local level relate to a lack of access to information and many requests for information at the local level involve documents which either could or should be disclosed proactively. Municipal by-laws, budgets, rates and tenders are all examples of records which should be disclosed by operation of law, without the need for following a formal request process under PAIA. The issue of proactive disclosure, not just in relation to records that should be made available by operation of law, but also in relation to records that a required by specific communities and that can be made proactively available is ripe for discussion moving forward. There is clearly more work to be done in demystifying the operations of government by encouraging it to get out in front of requests for information.
R2K reiterated its commitment to activism in the area of access to information and SAHA, both as a partner organisation and as a member of R2K remains committed to partnering on and contributing to this work. Phantsi secrecy, phantsi! Viva R2K, viva!