Data, democracy, and…dairy?

Not politicians nor bureaucrats.

This is not to be cynical, just realistic.

The beneficiaries of good governance and service delivery are the people.

So it stands to reason that they must have access to the information that allows for proper citizen oversight.

On the farm, if the computer says cow #17021 is getting sick (yes, the data can show when a cow is about to get sick!) and the farm manager does nothing, the cow gets sick and dies.

The system relays this information to the farm owner who can go back in the data and see that the sick cow was flagged and the manager did nothing and then the manager gets disciplined.

If we could track thousands of families going through a court eviction, civil society could intervene at the level of the individual and look at the larger patterns and push for changes to the system.

If data can allow us to tell us that a cow’s protein intake needs to be increased by 20%, then surely we can use it to flag cases where the Municipality must be joined to a matter where a tenant would be made homeless by their eviction — which is what the law states must happen.

Collecting this data will, in fact, make applying the law correctly easier than it is now.

The tracking of data allows for a system that can ultimately help align all actions toward the desired goal, whether its quality milk or justice for all.

The legal system does not want to change.

We see this every time activists from Reclaim the City go to the Wynberg Magistrates’ Court to monitor eviction cases, and confused low-income tenants are summarily evicted without knowing they had a right to free legal representation.

We see this when the court manager stubbornly refuses to engage with those trying to help, saying that “this is her court” and she can apparently do as she pleases.

We see this when the Magistrate willfully misuses the law to exclude the public from “open court” so they can’t perform an oversight function.

But civil society and the people (who the courts actually belong to) must drag them, kicking and screaming into the new age.

The age of data and the age of open information and public oversight.

We are at a stage where technology can tangibly facilitate greater democracy, but we need to fight for it politically.

Paradoxically, if we care about the people in our justice system being able to fully realise their rights, then we must turn them into ones and zeros and allow modern computing to provide a level of administrative efficiency that humans alone just aren’t capable of.

The tech is the tool, and we must be the artisans of our own future.


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