Info-activism show- and-tell in Cape Town

A group of 45 Cape Town based designers, artist-activists and NGO workers from a range of organisations gathered for a Thursday night out with info-activism. The reason was the '10 tactics' screening hosted by Tactical Tech, the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa (Idasa) and NGO media consultancy group, Wingseed Media. Not only was this the first time '10 tactics' was shown in Cape Town but also the first film to be shown in Idasa's new conference/lecture/screening space, dedicated to active citizenship and social justice.


The evening took an exciting turn as the screening event transformed into info-activism show-and-tell. Paula Akugiziswe from the Aids and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa (ARASA) showed ARASA's new video campaign, 'Lords of the Bling” (watch it here). The video, spoofing a music video and positioning government leaders as wealthy hip-hop stars, asks why leaders in sub-Saharan Africa are participating in “an epidemic of extravagance” instead of “showing the money” to combat the rising rate of HIV and TB in Sub-Saharan Africa. It perfectly exemplified 'Tactic 5 'Just Add Humour' and 'Tactic 3 'Visualise Your Message', making the audience laugh while still capturing their attention with hard facts and a powerful message.

Paula elaborated on this campaign for monitoring government spending, detailing their use of a Facebook group called “Eye Spy'. This persona, represented by a giant eyeball, reports on government spending with status updates such as:

"Eye Spy with my GIANT eye that the Zimbabwean "ruling elite are taking far too much for themselves... so much more than their fair share that they are leaving almost nothing for providing basic social services to ordinary citizens."

After Paula's demonstration, Brett Davidson from Wingseed Media opened a discussion on info-activism. He spoke about his experience working with the Stop Stockouts campaign in Zimbabwe in 2009. Here, FrontlineSMS was used for citizens to collect information about the availability of essential medicines (to treat common illnesses like malaria, TB, HIV and pneumonia) in the public health clinics where they were purported to be stocked. This data was then mapped out, using crowd-sourcing platform, Ushahidi, to provide a cogent overview of the crucial problem of 'stock-outs' in the country.

The discussion continued around potential issues for information-activism. Ingrid Meintjes, from Aids Response, asked about the consent of participants in campaigns and a few people offered advice on how to conceal the identity of someone you are interviewing on video. Everyone agreed that obtaining consent from participants is an essential part of an info-activist's strategy.

Advocates from the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce  enquired about how to circumvent internet surveillance when working on sensitive issues. Joy Olivier, who attended Tactical Tech's Info-Activism Camp in 2009 and works for Ikamva, recommended whistleblower website WikiLeaks for advocates who are working on high risk issues and need to disseminate information in the public realm without it being traced back to them. Faith Bosworth, from Tactical Tech, suggested consulting Tactical Tech's toolkit, Security in-a-box, for day-to-day tactics for safety and security, highlighting Tor as an excellent tool for disguising one's identity while online.

Paula, from ARASA, discussed the criticisms they'd received for their “Lords of the Bling” video, most particularly that the concern that this kind of activism can be perceived as “slacktivism”. Fervent discussion around this topic ensued and a few people rallied around the argument that it is far easier to acquire high numbers of supporters through a Facebook group than it is for a protest march. One person raised the example of how ordinary citizens, who might not have physically joined a protest, turned their Twitter avatars green to speak out against alleged electoral fraud in Iran during the government elections held there last year. A negligible gesture from millions of individuals thus quickly turned into a hot topic for international mainstream media and created significant debate and exposure of the situation in Iran.

The night ended with refreshments, the distribution of Tactical Tech's resources and many smaller groups breaking up for more discussion.

Images, Top: The audience waiting for the 10 tactics screening to begin. Middle: The screening room at Idasa. Bottom: Paula Akugizibwe introducing ARASA's “Lords of the Bling” video campaign.