Many of African States are focusing on ICTs and developing e-government infrastructures in order to fasten and improve their “formalisation strategy”. This philosophy drives the South African State in its impressive efforts to deploy an efficient and pervasive e-government architecture for its citizens to enjoy accurate public services and for this young democracy to be “useful” to them. By focusing on the South African case, people will be able to understand the role of ICTs as tools to register, formalize and normalise, supporting the final objective of Weberian rationalisation. The author will consider the historical process of this strategy, across different political regimes (from Apartheid to democracy). He will see how it is deployed within a young democracy, aiming at producing a balance between two poles: a formal existence of citizens for them to enjoy a “delivery democracy” in which they are to be transparent; an informal existence of citizens for them to live freely in their private and intimate sphere. In this tension, South Africa, given its history, is paradigmatic and can shed light on many other countries, beyond Africa.
Formality Is Key To E-Welfare State
ICT are powerful tools for e-government to be deployed in the most comprehensive way. The condition for this scenario to happen and for e-government to mean something for everyone in everyday life is: what can e-government deal with? Indeed, e-government functionalities can only be put into place if they get the clearest picture of the reality to be managed or to be transformed.
According to Lautier (2004), the word “informal” was first proposed in 1971 by Hart (1973) to describe the complementary revenue that is necessary to face wage stagnation, inflation, insufficient kin solidarity and limited access to credit opportunities in developing countries. The term was then popularized by the International Labour Office (ILO) in 1972 in its report “Incomes and Equality – A Strategy for Increasing Productive Employment in Kenya”. Whereas Hart was taking “informality” for a set of practices, the ILO is using it to depict a situation, the “informal sector”, the “informal economy”. As Lautier (2004) shows it, searching for a definite list of criteria to define informality is a vain activity. He rather focuses his analysis on the economic informality, that of economic activities that are characterised by the following: law infringement, relatively small-scale, under-employment, poverty, survival strategies…
Because we agree with Lautier (2004) on the impossibility of a comprehensive definition of informality, we shall push for a narrower understanding of this notion by focusing on the administrative informality. It gathers all human activities and products that do not exist in the eye of the State, that are not part of any statistical apparatus and thus can not be acted upon because they simply don’t exist for the administrative machinery.
The construction of e-government requires the constitution of vast and complete databases. An “ignorant” e-government, that does not satisfy its appetite for information and data, can not run efficiently. Furthermore, these data must be usable by the technical architecture in place and thus must be standardised, formatted into the frameworks of the administrative system that collects, manages, produces and diffuses these information. In this regard, any e-government strategy must develop “policies of formalisation” (Lautier, 2004). Using the notion of formalisation refers to four objectives: making some realities official in the eye of the administration; formatting realities into specific statistical and administrative frameworks; informing authorities to produce knowledge; controlling these now well-known realities.
Aiming at satisfying its statistical appetite in order to ensure the exhaustivity of its knowledge and of its control, the South African State is implementing several ICT-based initiatives. Citizens, their identities and their activities must be visible to the State. Some might say they must be “transparent” to the Leviathan. Let’s note that whereas the total population of South Africa was about 45,4 million in 2002 (StatSA, 2002), only 28 million South Africans had an identity card in May 2003 (Buthelezi, 2003). Three million unidentified children were still out of the social security system in 2004 (Mapisa-Nqakula, 2004).
The existence of people in the eye of the administration means that they can enjoy their “second-generation” socio-economic rights and access the facilities of the Welfare State. For instance, the Vital Registration Programme is using an online data collection and compilation system in order to register births with no delay in hospitals and clinics. The Child Support Grant is thus correctly paid to eligible households. The ID card is truly an enabling documentation. This formalisation of people’s identity is also a condition of their citizenship: thus, according to the Home Affairs Minister, Mapisa-Kqakula, the attribution of ID documents to San communities in 2004 enables them to live “their full participation as citizens” (Van Der Berg, 2004). Geographical data are also crucial: the South African Post Office (SAPO) and the firms Spatial Technologies and MapInfo Corporation are involved in the ICT-based cleaning up of all street addresses of the country (Minnaar, 2004b).