Tshwane turns to WhatsApp to boost citizen engagement

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The City of Tshwane has made it possible for residents and businesses to interact with it directly for a range of services using instant messaging platform WhatsApp.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp is one of the more popular messaging apps in SA, accounting for 10.2 million active users, according to the 2020 South African Social Media Landscape report.

Through the e-Tshwane WhatsApp Chat Service, ratepayers can view and pay their bills via the platform, request application forms for a number of services, access specific links and obtain contact information, says city spokesperson Selby Bokaba.

In addition, users are able to view and apply for jobs through the e-recruitment link and get a summary of their utility account.

“Ratepayers who are not registered on the e‑Tshwane service are able to engage and perform most functions on the WhatsApp platform.

“However, certain functions − for example, account payments − are only available to users registered on the e-Tshwane service. This requirement is to ensure security of the transactions performed on the platform.

“The long-term view is that any visitor to the city should also be able to engage the city via this platform.”

The e-Tshwane portal allows residents to engage with the city online, offering services such as viewing and paying bills, capturing meter readings online, as well as the capability to lodge a query or complaint that will be routed to the appropriate area within the city for resolution.

Bokaba points out that rolling out the WhatsApp chat service not only fits into the city’s move to grow its communication channels but also the modernisation approach to establish Tshwane as a smart city.

The city, Bokaba notes, is always looking for initiatives to make it easier for the ratepayers and citizens to engage with it.

“This service is a natural extension of the city’s e-Tshwane online platform; we are just offering citizens an even more convenient way to engage. This is a method that most people are accustomed to in line with the growing adoption of social media platforms.

“Messaging has embedded itself into daily life in South Africa, and WhatsApp is far above all other social platforms…outperforming platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, etc.”

During the past month, the city had 29 700 instances where people interacted through the WhatsApp service, states the spokesperson. “We have seen a steady increase in the adoption, particularly now that the number has been made public and the service is being advertised.”

In the wake of increased digital services uptake, users of popular social media apps like WhatsApp often become targets of fake news and security breaches.

To protect the residents using e-Tshwane WhatsApp chat to make payments, Bokaba says secure reinforcements have been applied.

“The payment process utilises the 3D secure functionality implemented by the banks that protects users against unauthorised use of their cards when making payments online, and the payments are processed within the banking infrastructure.

“The payment process also requires you to be a registered user of the online e-Tshwane platform.”

According to Bokaba, the WhatsApp service is rule-based, more practical and structured at present, with a view to use natural language processing for a more natural conversational effect in the near future.

“A conversation on the WhatsApp platform is open or remains active for a period of 24 hours, so a user does not need to terminate a session when additional information that is not readily on hand is required.”

Tshwane’s WhatsApp chat service is available on 087 153 1001.

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