15 December 2011

SAHA helps community leaders use freedom of information law for the benefit of their community

Community leaders from Ward 30, an informal settlement in Krugersdorp, have experienced significant success in using the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to access information that will assist with development in their community.

These leaders act through a group known as Community in Concern, which seeks to protect the interests of the residents of Ward 30, or Tarleton, as it is known by those who live there.

Community members have complained that land which was restituted, and is currently being held in trust, has not been used for the benefit of the community. They have asked for SAHA's assistance in obtaining copies of the trust agreements and documents outlining land ownership in the area. The trust agreements and legal descriptions of the property have been released under PAIA and copies provided to the community leaders. The community leaders plan to rely on these documents to protect their interests by ensuring that members of the community receive their rightful interest in the land.

Additionally, Community in Concern has requested information regarding training sessions that were supposed to have taken place for the benefit of the local population. This skills development training was meant to assist members of the community in becoming self-sufficient and local community members were told that training had occurred. However, by making an application for information under PAIA, Community in Concern was able to reveal that the training did not take place and the intended beneficiaries did not get the advantage of skills development training. The group plans to follow up on this information by requesting details about why the training fell through and what happened to any funds that were set aside for the skills development program.

Although these successes have been useful for the community leaders and residents, they believe there are still many problems they must tackle. The community's infrastructure is severely limited and residents have been told that some of the promised development projects are no longer possible owing to problems with the land quality. Community in Concern plans to continue using the law to seek information about these issues in hopes to identify solutions for the people of Ward 30.

SAHA has also assisted Community in Concern with obtaining information that did not require formal requests under the law. The community organisation has received copies of the integrated development plan for their municipality, which includes many specific plans for development in Tarleton. Although this information is publicly available, it is not widely accessible in an area where there is a severe lack of internet connectivity. Community in Concern also had SAHA provide them with information about local government budgets and a copy of the Bill of Rights. They believe that this information will better equip them to hold their government accountable, protect their constitutionally guaranteed rights, and bring about tangible progress in the community.

If you would like SAHA to assist your community or organisation to gain access to information that may assist in your advocacy work contact the Freedom of Information Programme.