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Twitter, Facebook, get Presidential nod

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After months of relentless criticism from members of South Africa’s ruling party for allowing hate groups, rumours and fake identities, social networks were given a welcome boost in President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at the implications of the address for Twitter and Facebook.

In four brief references, President Jacob Zuma told South Africans, in effect, that he was okay with social networks.

Coming in the wake of the ANC Youth League’s infamous call for the ‚closer of Twitter‚ , heavy criticism of the social network for fuelling rumours about Nelson Mandela’s health, and calls for investigation of fake identities on Twitter and Facebook, the positive references came as a surprise.

The first reference came as he introduced his speech with thank-yous to various entities for the opportunity and input. Social networks were third in line, after the Speaker, Chairman of the National Council of Provinces and Presiding Officers:

‚We would like to thank all South Africans who contributed to this State of the Nation Address through mainstream media, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as direct contact. The inputs have been very helpful.‚

Facebook came in for several more indirect kudos, as President Zuma drew on postings on the Presidency page to raise issues of concern to South Africans:

‚Bongokuhle Miya wrote on the Presidency Facebook page that his hometown Umzimkhulu is in an appalling condition, with burst sewerage pipes everywhere, no drainage system and domestic animals that are roaming around town. He writes: ‚If the Government, which is doing very well, could just pay much more attention, with a bit of urgency to such areas’.

Indeed, we agree service delivery should move faster.‚

Zuma gave examples of where services would be improved, saying the Government would also improve the delivery of rental accommodation‚ as some people coming to urban areas do not intend to settle permanently‚ .

He then related this to another Facebook posting:

‚This should be welcome news to citizens such as Portia Busisiwe Mrwetyana who wrote on our Facebook page about inequalities in Bekkersdal, where an informal settlement which has no services, lies alongside a suburb across the road with all amenities. She asks: ‚What I wanna know is why treat us differently, but we give you the same vote, WHY?’.‚

Zuma then went into detail on spending on improved amenities and infrastructure, with R2,6-billion allocated to water services and safe drinking water.

And, finally, the outcry about the state of roads on social networks came in for special mention:

‚We noted the requests from many contributors to this address, for government to fix potholes. Our Expanded Public Works Programme aims to create 4, 5 million work opportunities, and more than a million opportunities have been created already since the beginning of Phase 2. Part of the programme focuses on repairing our roads networks.‚

This tight integration of the use of social networks into the State of the Nation address sent a powerful message to critics of these online media. Used correctly, and seen in their correct context, they are both a vehicle for communication between citizens and Government and a tool for improvement of the country and the lives of its people.

On the strength of this unspoken message, Zuma has probably laid to rest fears recently expressed in media circles that the South African government would consider muzzling social networks as a result of their role in supporting revolution in the Middle East.

Facebook and Twitter users in South Africa can probably breathe easier today. Rather than wanting the ‚closer of Twitter‚ , the President has shown that he is closer to Twitter than anyone had imagined.

Follow Arthur on Twiiter on @art2gee

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