n Communicatio : South African Journal of Communication Theory and Research - E-governance and e-publicanism : preliminary perspectives on the role of the Internet in South African democratic processes : media studies : research article




In this article the focus is on the role of the Internet in democratic processes in sub-Saharan Africa, with a specific focus on South Africa. Two aspects of participatory democracy are looked at to establish the potential use of the Internet for democratic purposes. On the one hand, there is the use of the Internet in e-governance, for instance in national elections; on the other hand, by groups using the Internet to protest against government policy, in this case pertaining to health care for people living with HIV / AIDS. To frame the discussion of some South African examples, an overview is given of recent trends and developments, in which it is indicated that although some reasons for optimism do exist, a truly functional connection between democracy and the Internet is still a very long way off. Some major reasons for this state of affairs are discussed, for example, the question whether African governments will allow the inroads of digital communication through the Internet into their countries, especially given the history of a lack of media freedom in most countries. Infrastructural and informal problems resulting in a lack of connectivity are also outlined, showing some of the impediments to utopian scenarios. However, the theoretical assumption that the Internet not only provides the elite with a tool to wield power, but also allows smaller groupings to gain a foothold in communication channels, also holds true to a certain extent. The authors conclude that, while serious impediments remain, the Internet's potential for democratic purposes in South Africa is being realised.


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