Pandemic shows the power of digital public service

Johannesburg, 28 Oct 2020
Read time 3min 00sec
  • The government’s digital responses to the COVID-19 pandemic showcased the power of moving services online.
  • This emerged during an AWS webinar on citizen engagement as an enabler for smart cities of the future this week.
  • The webinar outlined the opportunities and progress made in using cloud-based digital technologies to improve government services at all levels.

While South African national, provincial and local government is keen to step up digital service delivery, there are challenges to overcome, noted Mandla Ngcobo, deputy director-general: CIO at the Department of Public Service and Administration, and Pierre Schoonraad, Head of Research and Development at the Centre for Public Service Innovation. Among these were concerns about data sovereignty and security, challenges in breaking down silos, and a cohesive approach to gathering and utilising data.

Zubin Chagpar, head of Middle East and Africa Public Sector Sales for AWS, said: “These have been challenging times and we have been incredibly impressed by how governments have responded, and a lot of this has rested on the cloud.”

GovChat was one of a number of South African innovators working with AWS to transform how public services were delivered, he said. “South Africa has innovation in its DNA, and South Africans were among the early adopters when we launched AWS. We are excited to be investing in South Africa and working with innovators here to grow their businesses and transform service delivery.”

Eldrid Jordaan, CEO and Founder of South Africa’s largest citizen engagement platform, GovChat.Org, said: “The pandemic showcased the power of moving things online – for example, SASSA did not want to put grant recipients at risk by making them queue to apply for Social Relief in Distress grants, so they worked with us to digitise the application process. We were able to process over 4.4 million applications without anyone having to stand in a queue. Solutions like this show that South Africa can lead in changing the way citizens engage with government.” He said improved citizen engagement demanded the use of simple platforms that citizens already use, and harnessing a single platform for all engagement. “Working in silos just doesn’t work,” he said.

Ngcobo said: “Before the public sector can deliver cloud-enabled digital services, it must have certain capabilities, and the way government operates must be more cohesive across departments and take less of an inside-out approach. Crucially, we need universal access.” However, he said progress was being made to transform public service and work towards a single approach to sharing and managing data to ensure all public service entities worked as one.

Schoonraad also pointed to challenges in fostering innovation: “We have to show the door to 80% of the innovators who approach us.” He said a lack of funding, and procurement processes designed to combat fraud did not support development of start-ups with new solutions designed for the public sector.

He said he hoped to see progress towards a unified digital channel through which citizens engaged with all levels of government in the years to come.

For more information, and to register for the upcoming skills development and capacity building for a future-proofed workforce event, go to

See also