Using information to hold others to account in South Africa

Blyde River Canyon

By Amilah Abd-Al-Rashid

The objective of the South African History Archive is to recount and raise awareness of past and present struggles for justice through innovative archival processes, educational outreach, and actively using access to information legislation. From the moment I walked through the doors of the SAHA offices in the Women’s Jail at Constitutional Hill, I was welcomed into the Freedom of Information Programme team that is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of access to information legislation in South Africa.

My work includes submitting requests under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, doing legal research surrounding corporate transparency in South Africa and abroad, and actively participating in community outreach initiatives, all with the broader aim of holding public and private bodies accountable for decisions that affect the lives of South Africans.

The access to information requests we have submitted are largely surrounding a Truth and Reconciliation Project whose aim is to bring as many apartheid era records as possible out of government archives for public access. Other requests have been directed toward corporate bodies and the levels of transparency we can achieve regarding their internal structures and decision-making processes that involve public funds. With upcoming elections, SAHA believes it is important to shed light on the involvement of corporations in the democratic process.

In my work I engage with activist communities in Johannesburg and the wider Access to Information Network. This includes collaborations with domestic and international investigative journalists with a focus on corporate transparency and the extent to which access to information legislation can hold corporations accountable. This research has been exciting given the reach and significance that it has within South Africa and in the international community.

One of the more personally rewarding duties that I’ve taken on at SAHA is conducting educational workshops in townships throughout the city. At these workshops, we inform community leaders about how to draft effective access to information requests, distribute materials regarding the useful types of information that can be attained, and submit requests on their behalf.

My time on the FOIP team in has been illuminating. In the short time that I have been here, I have been exposed to the political realities of the nation as well as the potential for growth and development.

Amilah Abd-Al-Rashid is a law student who expects to be called to the bar in Ontario in 2020