04 December 2017

Publication Launch: Accessing Information at the Local Level

On the anniversary of the death of Ahmed Timol, on 27 October 2017, SAHA met with community activists and municipal officials to launch our newest set of publications. We took a moment to reflect on the significance of the day. The ultimate sacrifice made by Timol for truth and justice in South Africa. How, despite a new constitutional dispensation, it took 45 years for the inquest finding of suicide to be overturned and replaced with a finding of murder. In particular we reflected on the role information and access to information played in the Timol family’s struggle for justice.

In light of this history we moved on to discuss some the current struggles for justice undertaken by community activists in the room. The discussion between municipal officials and activists on this day was frank and honest. There appeared to be real understanding both from officials about the difficulties faced by activists and from activists about the difficulties faced by officials.

Officials shared about how they are often suspected by information holders within municipalities of being out to undermine them and their work by making information accessible. At the same time they are often suspected by requesters of shielding information holders and blocking access. Their work is further complicated by a lack of training for senior officials who therefore do not understand the importance of compliance with access to information legislation.

Participants at the SAHA Publication Launch 27 October 2017

On the other hand activists expressed frustration with being sent from pillar to post when seeking information required to activate around the problems faced by their community. The engagement however gave an opportunity for officials in the room to make direct contact with activists. These officials were able to assist some of the activists in the room with identifying the records they will need to forward their struggles for justice. They also provided contact details and undertook to assist with access to information requests.

Officials and activists alike felt the resources, launched and handed out at the event, were valuable in forwarding their future access to information work. It is our hope that these resources will indeed be useful and widely used.