A Hivos Southern Africa-supported citizen media project run by Plumtree Development Trust (PDT) is empowering communities in rural Plumtree to set their own development agendas and influence positive change concerning issues of community interest.
Anchored on citizen journalism, citizen media clubs, off-air radio and Bulk SmS platforms, the innovative project has empowered 20 wards from Bulilima and Mangwe rural communities to debate, dialogue and share locally relevant and development-oriented information.
Between 2014 and 2015, PDT trained citizen journalists and community media club facilitators to be game changers in their communities. In particular, the project has successfully promoted the participation of ordinary citizens in key developmental issues including greater collaboration and engagement between citizens and their local leaders.
For instance, ward based Citizen Media Clubs (CMC), established after the intervention of PDT, promotes public participation and inclusion of locals in development processes.
Instead of waiting for a Councillor or a traditional leader to call for a public meeting, the CMC meets on its own to identify and discuss critical local issues, and uses information gathered through citizen journalists to lobby for policy changes or implementation.
In these meetings, a Councillor or Chief is invited to give feedback on development priorities set by the Rural District Council. This has led to public accountability of leaders and improved service delivery.
For instance in Vulindlela Ward, citizens have collaborated with their Councillor to implement the Ward Development Strategic Plan which had been stalled since 2013.
“Our club has attracted interest from many people here. Currently we have 50 members but we are still growing because we want all villages to be represented,” said Bhekisisa Sibanda, a key member of the local CMC.
“What is most interesting is that in our meetings everyone is given an opportunity to express their needs and challenges regards community development.”
Communities are also using the off-air radio platform run by PDT to express their community needs and challenges. In the absence of PDT, citizen journalists whose role is to gather community news moderate these platforms.
In Tjankwa ward, for example, small-scale farmers use off-air radio to debate livelihoods issues including sharing strategies for climate change adaptation.
Some women associations have established community gardens using information shared during the community radio dialogue platforms.
In Marula, a peri-urban ward in Mangwe, citizen participation increased following dissemination of local relevant and development oriented information through Bulk SMS.
The free text-messaging system has resulted in more people participating in community development meetings.
This positive change in civic participation, according to the Councillor of the Ward, Ngonidzashe Chiutsi, has led to the establishment of a secondary school.
“Attendance of people to community meetings used to be very low leading to failed community projects but through the SMS platform we have seen an increase in civic participation and engagement as more people attend development meetings, she said.”
Testimonials from other community members, local leaders and PDT staff show that indeed citizen media can be a panacea for community development through promoting access to locally relevant information, effective civic participation and engagement on community matters.