Sinethemba Dlova and Siyasanga Mtshokotsha have seen the strain that ward councillors take trying to keep up with their workload. Now the two young entrepreneurs from Gugulethu have developed an app – named MuniWard – that will offer those councillors some relief, and give community members a little peace of mind.
Spare a thought for South Africa’s 4 200-plus ward councillors.
In a 2010 report, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) in Johannesburg highlighted some of the challenges these officials encounter as they labour at the very coalface of local government, serving as the interface between wards and municipalities. Chief among these are high turnover and work overload. Ward councillors are also beset by infrastructural problems, said the CPS report, and lack administrative support.
Sinethemba Dlova (21) and Siyasanga Mtshokotsha (22) are familiar with the pressure under which ward councillors work. The two tell of the long lines that residents of Gugulethu in the Western Cape make to speak to their ward councillors, face-to-face encounters assumed to be the best way to raise issues or get some feedback from calls logged with the municipality.
Equally long, then, is the list of complaints that ward councillors have to tend to at the end of long days. They, somehow, have to make time to convert scribbled notes into queries to the municipality. Once the municipality gets back to them, they then have to report back to the resident.
“Ward councillors have no dedicated system to do this,” says Mtshokotsha. “They have no way of letting the resident know that a problem is being seen to, so there’s no transparency and it becomes a communication problem.”
The partners want to bridge that gap. To do so, they’ve developed a mobile app called MuniWard. The aim, they say, is to connect ward councillors and residents, “ensuring transparency in faults logging and status tracking”.
MuniWard is, as the best apps are, simple but efficient.
The business plan is to licence MuniWard to ward councillors, who input the resident’s case number into the app. Once they’ve followed up with the municipality and received feedback, the councillors can enter updates on the app – they even have a dropdown list of frequent responses they can choose from – which then sends an alert to the resident via an SMS.
The app will include other services for ward councillors, such as sending out notifications of public meetings via SMS.
“We looked at the problems around us and thought, what we can contribute to help our community,” says Dlova of the app’s origins.
MuniWard is still in its developmental stage. Unsure how to turn it from do-good concept to product, Dlova and Mtshokotsha last year applied to InnoTech. The programme is run on behalf of Telkom FutureMakers by the Bandwidth Barn in Woodstock, which forms part of the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi). Through InnoTech, successful start-ups are provided with a R20 000 ‘angel grant’, office space, internet and telephone access, and business training.
The time on InnoTech has proven invaluable for Dlova and Mtshokotsha. They not only received some essential business training, but also learnt that their app could have uses well beyond Gugulethu or local government. They realised, for instance, that it can be adapted easily for other environments, like corporate customer relations.
“When we got here, we only knew that we had an idea that could maybe be turned into a business,” says Dlova. “InnoTech helped us put details into our plans.”
The next step is for MuniWard to be put through its paces. For this, Dlova and Mtshokotsha hope to pilot it with a few ward councillors keen to improve their communications with their wards, helpful with local elections coming up.
“We will offer it as a free trial for a period so we can gather data,” says Mtshokotsha.
After that, the app and the partners swing into full business mode.