The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) was officially launched in May 1998. It was established in terms of Section 7 (Subsection 2 and 3) of the Public Service Act, 1994 (Act 103 of 1994), as amended. It was transferred from the then Department of Communications to The Presidency with effect from 1 April 2020.
The mandate of the GCIS is derived from Section 195(g) of the Constitution, which stipulates that South African citizens should be provided with information that is timely, accurate and accessible. This is in support of the constitutional principles of freedom of expression, transparency and openness of government. The GCIS is responsible for providing strategic leadership and coordinating government communication to ensure that the people of South Africa are informed and have access to government programmes and policies that benefit them.
The NDP emphasises the need to unite all South Africans around a common goal, ensure citizens are active in their own development, and build a capable and developmental state. This is given expression by Priority 6 (building a capable, ethical and developmental state) of government’s 2019 – 2024 MTSF, with which the work of the GCIS is aligned.
- provides professional services;
- sets and influences adherence to standards for an effective government communication system;
- drives coherent government messaging; and
- proactively communicates with the public about government policies, plans programmes and achievements.
The DG of the GCIS is also the official spokesperson for government. He/she chairs the GCIS Executive Committee – a strategising body that integrates, coordinates and rationalises the work of the department and government communication.
Over the medium term, the GCIS will continue to focus on providing and facilitating strategic government communication, and encouraging active citizen participation. It will support all government departments in conceptualising cohesive campaigns, developing communications strategies and content, disseminating information, and engaging stakeholders.
The GCIS will enhance its delivery of these core services by harnessing various communications structures, such as social media, to reach and provide information to more South Africans.
Expenditure for these activities is within the medium‐term allocations to the Content Processing and Dissemination programme (R1.3 billion) and Intergovernmental Coordination and Stakeholder Management programme (R375.4 million), which together account for 75.6% of the department’s budget over the medium term. Transfers to the department’s entities account for 34.6% (R751.9 million) of its total budget over the medium term.
The GCIS will keep communities and stakeholders abreast of government’s progress with the implementation of the District Development Model (DDM), which aims to improve the coherence and impact of development in 44 districts and eight metropolitan municipalities across the country. To this end, the department will hold 1 140 community and stakeholder liaison visits and 1 140 development communication projects per year over the MTEF period. Spending for these activities is largely driven by goods and services items, which account for 16.9% (R62.4 million) of the total budget in the Intergovernmental Coordination and Stakeholder Management programme.
The GCIS’s outreach programme makes use of talk shows on community radio and television stations, activations at taxi ranks and malls, commuter train blitzes, izimbizo, and door-to‐door campaigns. These activities allow the department to interact with communities, and often provide an early warning for any societal issues or discontent. The outreach programme is allocated R6.3 million in each year of the medium term in the Provincial and Local Liaison subprogramme in the Intergovernmental Coordination and Stakeholder Management programme. An amount of R50 million is further allocated to the Products and Platforms subprogramme in the Content Processing and Dissemination programme for the COVID‐19 Vaccine roll-out campaign in 2021/22.
To make the public aware of opportunities created by government, in line with its key priorities, the department plans to publish 15.3 million copies of Vuk’uzenzele newspaper per year over the medium term, at an estimated cost of R75 million in the Products and Platforms subprogramme.
Communication during the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the need for the GCIS to be technologically well-resourced to operate virtually in order to fulfil its communication mandate. In adapting to the ‘new normal’ after COVID-19, the department will continue using technology to make it easy and convenient for media and the public to access information remotely. The lockdowns, aimed at slowing the spread of the pandemic, created significant shifts in the way government communications reached – and reached out to – different constituencies and communities.
Restrictions on the movement of people other than essential workers presented huge challenges in terms of how government would replace physical interaction with citizens, with alternative means of communications that would comply with COVID-19 health protocols. Large public gatherings, including izimbizo, distribution of pamphlets, face-to-face interaction with media and visits by members of the public to Thusong Service Centres were among the communication modes that came under pressure or became almost impossible to undertake during the most severe lockdown conditions.
However, the GCIS responded to these unprecedented conditions rapidly by adopting technological platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams to enable remote meetings. The department also upscaled online publishing of traditionally print products, including Vuk’uzenzele newspaper.
The adoption of new technologies was particularly crucial in the support that the GCIS provided to President Cyril Ramaphosa who, in March 2020, had a 12-month term as Chairperson of the AU. As the pandemic progressed, so did South Africa’s – and especially the President’s – prominence on platforms of the World Health Organisation, the broader UN, BRICS, and other international bodies, which considered South Africa a strategic partner in the global management of the pandemic.
The growth in new communication channels and greater consumer use of social platforms enabled dissemination of public health and other relevant information that could assist vulnerable individuals and groups to survive the devastating economic impact of the pandemic.
The growth of online media, however, also presented peddlers of misinformation and disinformation with the easily accessible and cost-effective means of communication to undermine scientific and official messages. As a global phenomenon, fake news did not leave South Africa unscathed and in this event, the GCIS had to implement human and technological mechanisms to combat distortion, lies and contestation around various dimensions of the pandemic.
For the 2020/21 financial year, the GCIS was allocated R720.5 million. The 2020 Special Adjustment Budget resulted in an additional allocation of R60 million for the GCIS. This enabled the department to drive the COVID-19 Communication Strategy in a more meaningful and effective manner. Using the centralised coordinating structure, a coherent message to educate and raise awareness on the COVID-19 virus became effective. An above and below line advertising campaign was done, supported by direct mass mobilisation at district level and weekly media briefings.
Compensation of employees comprises, on average, 38% and transfer payments in respect of the appropriation to two public entities – Brand South Africa (Brand SA) and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) – comprises 35% of the budget over the medium term.
A total of 75% of the department’s allocation, over the medium term, is jointly spent in the core branches – Content Processing and Dissemination, and Intergovernmental Coordination and Stakeholder Management. The remaining 25% of the total departmental appropriation is allocated to Administration.