Speech by Deputy President Thabo Mbeki at the Launch of the Government Web Site, Pretoria, 28 January 1999

(Introduction by Abba Omar, Deputy CEO of GCIS)

If I were you, I would not believe what that newspaper says, but I am here really to say congratulations to the Government and Communication and Information System (GCIS) for this important launch today.

I think all of us in the room are aware of the position that the Government has taken for some time with regards to the matter of information and communication.

We believe that it is indeed the responsibility of the Government to communicate to the South African population, and indeed to the rest of the world, on a continual and on an accurate basis. And therefore we have always adopted a somewhat critical attitude towards ourselves as Government as to whether we are discharging that responsibility properly. The head of GCIS Joel Netshitenzhe, has just for instance referred to the Comtask, a group that was put together to assist in accessing the effectiveness, or otherwise, of Government with regard to the information and communication area. And indeed, they then made a variety of recommendations, which they did.

From the point of view of the Government, this is important because we do indeed sincerely believe that when we talk about a democratic system in South Africa, which is responsive to the feelings, the ideas, the moods, the needs and so on of the people, it is important that the people should know what the Government is doing. It is important to know what the Government is thinking, planning and so on. So that the people themselves can make an impact on those processes in Government. We believe that, that indeed is very important, and the launching of this Website is very much part of that process of ensuring the accessibility of Government to the people.

You know the work that is being done, with regards to the establishment of community centres, of telecentres, around the country so that even in rural areas people must have access to this modern technology. The Communications Department in Government has been doing a lot of work with regard to this together with Telkom, to make sure that these facilities are available. So that people do indeed have access to this.

I think all of us should also be aware of the fact that the Constitution itself gives the people the right to information, which is why Parliament has before it the Open Democracy Bill, which is supposed to regulate these questions so that people do have access. Now, this is an important part of that process.

I think we also are aware of the fact that many people around the world are continuously interested to know what is happening in South Africa. Sometimes the spotlight focuses on areas that are somewhat painful and embarrassing for us as a country, and maybe you wish that foreigners would not know what was happening. But in the end it is important that the rest of the world should itself get an accurate as possible a picture of what is happening

Now what has been said about the need to approach the web site critically amongst those people who want to use it, is an important matter. To see whether indeed it is user friendly, to see whether it indeed contains this breadth and extent of information, which is necessary for people to be able to format judgement, to be able to make an impact on the system of governance in the country. Those matters are important.

I am saying that to encourage what Joel Netshitenzhe has just said. That we would like a response from the public to say this thing is bad, it is good, it is indifferent, change this, change other things, overthrow the Deputy President and appoint Joel Netshitenzhe the new President of the country, all of that! That is all okay, that is all permissible. But it is important that we get that response, because we do what the service should indeed achieve the purposes for which it is established, of an open government, responsive to the thinking of the people, capable of discharging this responsibility of accountability to the people for its actions. its inactions as well.

Thank you very much indeed coming this afternoon. I know that you did not come merely for the food and the drinks, but to be part of the process of launching the thing which must become an important tool in the process of entrenching the system of democratic governance in this country, of entrenching this popular participation in the system of government, so that government does not become merely going to the polls, as we will do later this year to elect a government and then the people disappear, until the politicians re-appear to say vote for me five years later. I do not think we want a democracy of that sort.

The last think I would like to say, is before we are going to lock the door. I am going to go round to see everybody, to see whether they have registered to vote. I am going to check all the ID cards. Anybody who has not registered will sleep here tonight and I will take them personally tomorrow to the nearest registration point.

Thank you very much.

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