As the country’s phase two of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout programme is underway, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), is leading the mobilisation of South Africans to register for vaccination, through the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS).
Delivering the GCIS budget vote on Friday, Acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said more than 1.606 million senior citizens and over 850,000 healthcare workers have signed up on the EVDS to date.
“Working with the National Department of Health, provincial departments of Health, the Offices of the Premiers and community health workers, GCIS is coordinating, through its provincial offices, the registration of those with no access to technology through home visits whereas [the] Department of Health continues to assist with manual registrations at vaccination sites,” the Minister said.
She said the GCIS will spend its budget on mobilising South Africans to remain vigilant in their fight against COVID-19 through several community outreach activations.
“Through this budget, the GCIS will continue to implement our outreach programmes designed to reach people where they work or reside.
“These will include at taxi ranks, mall activations, panel discussions on local community media, and mainstream radio and television stations. Messages will continue to be packaged in all the eleven official languages,” the Minister said.
Adapting to the new normal
With the pandemic changing how GCIS carries out its mandate, the organisation has evolved its communication interventions in an effort to adapt to the new normal, brought on by the pandemic.
“GCIS introduced family meetings led by the head of family South Africa, His Excellency, President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa. Initially, GCIS held weekly briefings with Ministers, which were disrupted during the second wave because we needed to protect lives of not only Ministers, but staff who had to enable them even when they moved virtual. For the first time in the history of our nation, GCIS facilitated a virtual imbizo.”
Ntshavheni said government plans to re-introduce more family meetings that will not only focus on the fight against the pandemic, but will provide information about the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.
The intention is to enable citizens to take advantage of the opportunities to improve their lives; mobilise South Africans for the fight against corruption and a quest to build a capable state as part of citizens’ contribution to nation building.
This is also to enhance and maintain continuous national dialogue in the fight against gender-based violence and femicide and the pursuit of safe communities.
These will be supported by media briefings, led by Ministers.
“Therefore, the GCIS will continue its co-ordination of the Cluster Communication programme although the agenda will be more programme based to ensure a single message – different angles communication which is more impactful,” the Minister said.
In addition, various virtual platforms such as webinars continue to be used to enable participation of both experts and ordinary South Africans on various national dialogues.
“The GCIS like other departments equally adopted virtual platforms to interact with its stakeholders and its staff across the country, to communicate in real time and more frequently. Regular meetings to share ideas and information, and to identify and ultimately solve challenges became possible without leaving the comfort of one’s home/ desk,” Ntshavheni said.
The GCIS has been able to interact with communicators across all the spheres of government more regularly.
“These regular interactions have deepened our understanding of each other’s roles, responsibilities and challenges. These types of interactions will continue as they are also cheaper,” the Minister said.
Transforming the community radio sector
The Minister said community radio became one of the most effective platforms utilised during the pandemic.
“In the process, GCIS increased its network of community radios from 60 to about 199 connected community radio stations. This increased network has sharply challenged progress attained in the transformation of the media through community media. The experience we have had has proven that the current model is not sustainable and does not impact on transformation.”
Therefore, GCIS has been directed to work with the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, led by Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, to review the model with the current legislative reviews.
“We are counting on the support of Parliament to ensure that any legislative review benefits the transformation agenda of our country.”
The Minister noted that the South African Government News Agency (www.sanews.gov.za), one of the GCIS flagship communication products, continued to grow its presence in the digital media and communication space.
“Its content provides hard news, human-interest features, social-media links and audio inserts, photographs and videos. The agency has been at the forefront in providing pertinent information to citizens daily, including on health related COVID-19 protocols. This financial year, the coverage will include the other three key government programmes,” Ntshavheni said.
She said GCIS continues to challenge itself in ensuring most of its products reflects all the official languages of the country.
Other government platforms
“The Government website (www.gov.za ) managed and maintained by GCIS, continues to provide its visitors with all information they need on government. For the past financial year, we were able to record 83 million page views.
“Furthermore, GCIS continues to maintain the multilingual Vuk’uzenzele newspaper to provide government-related information and opportunities, mainly to persons without access to the mainstream media,” the Minister said.
GCIS prints about 850 000 copies every two weeks, which makes it the largest print circulation in South Africa.
“It reaches even the most remote parts of the country and it is also produced in Braille, online and on the Gov app. Given the penetration of digital media and for the protection of our trees, GCIS will survey the utilisation of the hardcopies for possible switch and the protection of trees and management of costs,” she said.