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Lessons from Reformers: South Africa’s Push for Open Access to Legislation

GR_Regulatory-Governance_South-Africa

This case study is part of the Regulatory Governance in the Open Government Partnership publication

Regulatory Governance in the Open Government Partnership When citizens understand and help to shape the rules that govern society, regulations are more effective, business environments are stronger, and levels of corruption are lower. This paper looks at…

South Africa particularly benefited from providing open access to legislation and set an example that other countries can follow. When a government provides open access to laws, informed citizens become better equipped to participate in decisions demanded by a democratic system. During the apartheid era in South Africa, access to information on social and economic affairs was purposefully suppressed. Laws were published in the government gazette known as Staatskoerant with very limited access. Opposition groups severely criticized the general secrecy of government, which enabled the gross violation of human rights. 

After the election in 1994, the right to access information was embedded in the Constitution, and in 2001, the Promotion of Access to Information Act came into force. The act established the constitutional right of access to any information – held by the government or others – necessary for the exercise or protection of rights. Today, the South African government gazette makes legal texts available to the public in printed form as well as electronically and has played a key role in supporting democratic stability and promoting the rule of law in the country. Free access to information was crucial for educating political activists as well as civil society and bringing about positive political change in the country.1 Now all South African legislation is publicly available through the Parliament’s website.

 

1. Richard Calland, “The State of the Art and the Emerging Theory of Change, Introduction,” 2013, in Access to Information in Africa: Law, Culture and Practice, eds., R. Calland and F. Diallo (Brill Publishing).

 

Many thanks to former OGP Steering Committee co-chair Mukelani Dimba for his contributions to this story.

Featured Photo: Parliament Building in Cape Town. Photo by dpreezq

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