The South African Constitution is promoting community involvement with the Cape Town budget, but many citizens have found it to complex to understand. However, a new website is using modern data journalism to make the budget more understanding and interesting.
Despite the Constitution of South Africa promoting community involvement in local government, community organisations have found the City of Cape Town’s budgets too complex and convoluted to understand, and the process of the community engaging with the City on the budget has been met with hostility.
But now a new website from social activist organisations Ndifuna Nkwazi, the Social Justice Coalition and International Budget Partnership, which uses modern data journalism techniques, is helping make the Cape Town budget both accessible and interesting.
As part of its project to get communities involved in the budget, the new website, http://capetownbudgetproject.org.za/, leads users through the budget, bringing clarity to an otherwise murky subject.
“Every year the mayor calls for residents to participate in the budget process by making submissions on Cape Town’s draft budget. Last year fewer than forty people wrote submissions and only 23 were from the public. This has been the trend for the last couple of years,” says Axolile Notywala, a member of the Social Justice Coalition. “It is a R37.5 billion budget that affects all of our lives. The amount of money that gets allocated to Khayelitsha makes the difference between five or ten families having to share a toilet. It determines whether we feel safe at night with streetlights that work.”
Ndifuna Nkwazi’s research found that 15.4% of the City’s R37.5 billion budget is spent on building infrastructure. Of this capital expenditure budget, R1.3 billion is earmarked for water and sanitation, which the group has identified as a priority issue for the City.
“According to government data, one in 12 households in Cape Town have no access to sanitation on-site,” says Shaun Russell, ICT researcher, Ndifuna Nkwazi, “and there are still over 48 000 households that use bucket toilets in the city.”
Using the website, residents can drill right down to their specific wards, allowing them to see exactly what projects the City has planned for their neighbourhoods during a particular financial year. It also gives pertinent information, such as the ward councillor, and demographics based on the South African census, using Wazimap (http://wazimap.co.za).
“In its current state, we just wanted to get a geographic idea of where money was being spent on capital projects. We focused on capital instead of operational spending because it shows long term investment and not short term stop gap measures — which is how they generally spend money on informal settlements,” says Russell.
The website forms part of a campaign that saw Khayelitsha residents deliver over 500 submissions to the City. (http://www.groundup.org.za/article/what-your-business-council-my-experience-trying-participate-city-cape-towns-budget_2939)
The concept of the website was born during data literacy workshops facilitated by the School of Data (http://schoolofdata.org/) and civic coding organisation Code for South Africa (http://code4sa.org) in September 2014.
Hannah Williams, the School of Data Fellow who designed the website, says: “This project demonstrates how design and technology can be used to make complex issues clearer to the public. Budgets are released as unwieldy documents that few people have the time or technical knowledge to read and understand, even though it’s something that affects everyone directly. You can’t have active citizens if people don’t have access to information.”
The workshops, held in Cape Town and Johannesburg and sponsored by the Indigo Trust, trained newsrooms and civic society organisations in the latest tools and methodologies used by the open data movement.
“We’ve seen data become key for civic society organisations,” says Russell. “Open data fosters a transparent and accountable government, but you still need the tools and knowledge to be able to interrogate that data, and to push government to provide it.”
“Section 152 of the Constitution explains an aim of local government is to encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in the matters of local government,” says the Social Justice Coalition’s Notywala. “Citizen participation is at the heart of democracy. I hope that Mayor Patricia de Lille will take into consideration all the submissions from Khayelitsha residents.”
* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA
Loadshedding keeps small business from the cloud
New research shows nearly half of South African small businesses struggle with internet connectivity
New research reveals South African small businesses aren’t able to adopt cloud technology because of their connectivity problems. The third annual State of Small Business report from accounting software firm Xero, conducted in partnership with World Wide Worx (WWW), shows that over half (53%) of small businesses haven’t adopted cloud technology yet, due to connectivity problems.
Over half (59%) said that scheduled power outages by the national supplier posed a significant challenge for their business. In addition, more than two fifths (43%) said that their internet connection was ‘OK but not 100% reliable’. Other challenges cited include new technologies entering the market (29%) and compatibility with customers (45%).
The research represents the opinions of 400 South African small business owners and 200 South African accountants. Almost half (47%) said their staff were highly tech-literate, but more than two thirds (67%) don’t allocate budget for training employees to use the software provided.
Colin Timmis, General Country Manager, Xero SA and professional accountant said “Our most recent State of Small Business report gives a real insight into what it’s like on the ground for small businesses in South Africa. In uncertain times like these, technology can provide stability. For example, cloud software can help overcome issues with connectivity. It helps to make your business more agile, meaning you can work from anywhere at any time. Being able to move when there are scheduled power cuts or patchy internet is crucial to keeping your business running.”
Nearly all who had adopted cloud technology said that they noticed an increase in profit (98%) and an increase in efficiency (99%). More than half (51%) suggested that it had improved their ability to work anywhere, and a quarter (25%) said it had improved security.
In addition, nearly two fifths (38%) said their IT set up was ahead of the curve. Over half (56%) said they use basic automation, whether in operational or accounting tasks. A quarter (25%) said they were using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, followed by cloud computing (19%).
“It’s great that South Africa’s small businesses are seeing the benefits of adopting technology. But there will be a learning curve for anyone using new software and employees shouldn’t be expected to self-teach. Because people are more tech-savvy than they used to be, training normally only takes a few hours. It could make all the difference in getting return on investment on the technology that you buy”, said Timmis.
Other key findings from the research reveal:
- Three quarters (79%) of small businesses claim that accounting software support is very important
- Three quarters (78%) of respondents use accounting software to manage financial records and over half (55%) are using desktop solutions.
- Only one fifth (22%) are using cloud accounting tools and nearly a quarter (23%) still do their books manually.
- Only a tiny proportion of respondents (0.25%) are using AI and machine learning.
Download the report in full here.
Uberising solar energy
A team of students from Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya on Thursday walked off as winners with R20 000 in prize money for an innovative concept to provide equitable energy access to remote villages based on, among others, “Uber(ising) solar energy.”
The team was one of four university teams participating in the African Utility Week and Powergen Africa conference and exhibition’s first ever Initiate! Impact Challenge. The 19th edition of the event gathered thousands of power, water and gas industry experts in Cape Town this week and ended on Thursday.
Student teams from Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand also took part in the three-day challenge sponsored by the Enel Foundation, the Innovation Hub, Lesedi Nuclear Services and the Russian Nuclear Agency Rosatom. The Initiate! Challenge aimed to create a platform for students and start-ups to drive innovation and share ideas for the energy sector.
The Strathmore University team included engineering students Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga, Fredrick Amariati and Alex Osunga. One member of the team will also have the exclusive opportunity to join the 5th annual student fact-finding mission to Russia to visit several state-of-the-art nuclear facilities and dedicated Russian nuclear universities. Maranga said the team is happy and humbled especially because they competed against some of the top universities on the continent. He said the teams’ winning idea is rooted in real life challenges that Kenyans in rural areas face. “The solutions offered so far to expand energy access are not solving these problems as many are not financially viable.”
The team’s idea is to put a solar panelled container in rural villages that will also house a clinic and a knowledge hub like a school for vocational training to teach people about the use and benefits of solar energy. It will also include a shop where villagers can buy daily essentials like milk.
Maranga said: “The school will help with capacity building as villagers will see and learn benefits of electricity and as the business grows, they will want to have electricity in their homes and when that point comes, we will have solar powered tricycles. These tricycles will carry and deliver batteries like Uber does passengers to villagers in more remote areas. The system is modular so we will add another container to charge batteries. These batteries are ferried on trikes, so villagers in more remote areas can request a number of charged batteries on their phone.”
Maranga explained that it is common cause that Africa is big, and many people live in remote rural villages. “So, it is not always possible to extend the power grid to these areas as it is very expensive. So, what do we do instead? Most people own a cell phone, and everyone needs electricity, so you take it to them. They cannot exactly carry a battery for two kilometres so why then not Uber a battery?” Maranga said their company Kijiji, (Swahili for village) will now look at commercialising their idea, optimise it and do market tests. “If accepted we want to roll it out depending on funding.”
The team’s idea appealed to the judges because it was a simple idea that is easy to replicate beyond Kenya to the rest of the continent. Chief executive officer of Rosatom Central and Southern Africa, Dmitry Shornikov, said: “We are very pleased with the solutions presented by the students. The maturity and depth of their research gives us great hope and proves that young Africans really are devoted to solving Africa’s energy challenges.”
Business Development executive at Lesedi Nuclear Services, Shane Pereira, in an earlier interview said the company partnered with Initiate! because it is dedicated to the youth that will be the leaders of tomorrow. “The growth and development as well as training, coaching and mentoring of the youth is critical to the success of our future economy.”
The ideas of the other three teams focused more on mitigating the risk of climate change and came up with ideas ranging from vertical farms to energy boxes.