The value of information in South Africa’s new democracy

Publication Date11 June 2018
Pages322-335
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/LM-09-2017-0087
Date11 June 2018
AuthorGenevieve Hart,Mary Nassimbeni
SubjectLibrary & information science,Librarianship/library management,HR in libraries,Library strategy,Library promotion
The value of information in
South Africas new democracy
Genevieve Hart and Mary Nassimbeni
Department of Library and Information Science, University of the Western Cape,
Cape Town, South Africa
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to trace and analyse the relationship between information and
democracy in the old and in the new South Africa. The authors interrogate the applicability to the situation of
the famous quotation attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Information is the currency of Democracy.
Design/methodology/approach The authors frame the argument by analysing the differences in
philosophy underpinning the states attitude to the free flow of information between the pre-democratic
regime (often referred to as the Apartheid regime which came into power in 1948) and the current democratic
state established in 1994.
Findings While the philosophical approach between the two regimes is demonstrably different the
findings show the discontinuities the authors also find evidence of continuities. The authors examine traces
of recurrent patterns and propose reasons for their persistence.
Originality/value Because South Africa is a ve ry young democracy it p resents unique opportun ities
for social scientists t o analyse the unfolding of ch allenges and opportuni ties not readily appare nt in
mature democracies. The the me of the issue allowed us to study and obse rve the evolution and growth
of policy related to the free flow of inf ormation, and also to examine the c urrent drift between policy
and practice.
Keywords South Africa, Value, Democracy, Information, Freedom, Flow
Paper type Conceptual paper
Introduction
In this paper, we trace the link between information and democracy through an analysis of
the current approach of a new democratic government in South Africa which succeeded a
government whose foundational philosophy was the denial of freedoms to the majority
and the entrenchment of privilege for the white minority. In this analysis, we uncover
continuities and discontinuities and account for the flux and policy drift with respect to the
freedom of information manifest in the two regimes. We examine the famous quotation
attributed to Thomas Jefferson that Information is the currency of democracyand explore
the extent to which, in spite of its longevity, the claim is applicable today in contemporary
South Africa. Thus we question what the consequences are when people are excluded from
the possibility of enjoying the currency in a proclaimed democracy and also what the effects
on democracy are of a debased currency, manifest, for example, in misinformation and
over-regulation of access to information. We surface evidence of these paradoxes in our
examination of the sort of democracy South Africans now enjoy and how information
policies and practices impact on its full expression not only through universal suffrage but
also in active citizenry. We conclude by reflecting on how libraries promote deliberative
democracy and can disrupt the dominance of entrenched knowledge systems that
marginalise the local and indigenous.
The states stranglehold on information in the pre-democratic state
The pre-democratic regime was marked by brutal oppression of people and the
suppression and distortion of information which took effect in a network of legislation
designed to assert and entrench the privilege of the white minority and to subjugate the
black majority, while at the same promoting the fiction internally and externally that it
Library Management
Vol. 39 No. 5, 2018
pp. 322-335
© Emerald PublishingLimited
0143-5124
DOI 10.1108/LM-09-2017-0087
Received 2 September 2017
Revised 11 October 2017
Accepted 15 October 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/0143-5124.htm
322
LM
39,5

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