International Budget Partnership (IBP) South Africa focuses on improving service delivery to poor communities via oversight of government budgeting and spending. To do this work IBP South Africa has long focused much of its work on mobilizing settlement residents.
After the South African government announced the lockdown back in March IBP South Africa and its partners — SASDI Alliance, Planact and Afesis-corplan — began working on an initiative called Asivikelane, “Let us protect each other” in Zulu.
Asivikelane, using WhatsApp, SMS and phone calls, provides a platform for residents in informal settlements to communicate severe water, sanitation and refuse removal shortages during the Covid-19 crisis. It is a growing network that already brings together 153 informal settlements in five metropolitan municipalities and five smaller towns.
Informal settlements have continued to grow as South Africa urbanizes. As local governments struggle to respond, informal settlement residents have started to lose faith in the political system and a growing proportion have stopped participating in routine democratic processes like elections and participation in local government budget and planning processes.
IBP South Africa says while threatening the lives of many, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about three welcome changes in this picture:
- Informal settlement service delivery has moved up the policy agenda rapidly. Because residents are provided with shared taps and toilets, informal settlements are particularly prone to the spread of the virus. For this reason, the government very rapidly made financial resources available when the potential scale of the pandemic became apparent.
- Government has also become more receptive to engaging with civic organizations working on the plight of informal settlement residents. IBP South Africa and its partners went from having to work for months to obtain a meeting with government to weekly meetings with various national and local governments.
- Civil society also felt this sense of urgency and in the last three months IBP South Africa’s network grew from three to ten partner organizations
Impact: Within this space we built the Asivikelane campaign that brings together two hundred informal settlements in six metropolitan and a growing number of smaller municipalities.
Through this campaign IBP South Africa have been able to collect information about water, sanitation and refuse removal in informal settlements every two weeks. We use this information to engage metropolitan municipalities and national government and as a result services in many informal settlements have improved rapidly.
Director of IBP South Africa, Albert van Zyl says IBP South Africa are however concerned that these gains will be lost when the pandemic slows down and that the level of services in informal settlements will revert to the status quo. For this reason IBP South Africa wants to consolidate and continue to grow the platform provided by Asivikelane to make a lasting impact on informal settlement services.
They propose to grow this platform in three ways:
- Expand and consolidate its network of civil society organisations (CSO) partners and informal settlements. “We project that we should be able to grow to at least 300 of the 3000 informal settlements and include between 1,5 and 3 million residents,” explains van Zyl.
- They will continue collecting service delivery information and use this to engage national and local government. The growth in numbers proposed above should help keep these doors open.
- They will do more diagnostic work on the weaknesses in public finance management systems that cause the poor quality and quantity of services in informal settlements.
van Zyl adds that in addition to IBP South Africa’s ability to convene civil society partners and engage government, its main contribution lies in its ability to do such diagnostic work. This takes two forms. First through their social audit and procurement monitoring methodologies, they identify weaknesses in budget implementation. “In Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, for example, our scaled up social audit with Planact developed recommendations to improve sanitation procurement that directly impacted the daily lives of the metro’s 600 000 informal settlement residents.