Petition: Reform of Library and Petition By-Laws

To: The Speaker
Councillor Constance Bontle Bapela
Office of the Speaker
City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality
PO Box 1049

From: ASRI Future Leaders Fellowship Programme
48 Ashford Road

We, the undersigned citizens, do hereby submit this petition, calling on the Johannesburg City Council to reform the City’s Library and Petition by-laws by:
(1) Introducing these attached By-Laws drafted by a citizens initiative of the ASRI Future Leaders Programme to Council at its next sitting;
(2) Opening an immediate city-wide public participation process on these attached By-Laws; and
(3) Adopting and promulgating these By-Laws before the next Municipal elections;

Library By-Law
We believe that libraries should be spaces where people can access information and culture, where students can study and where communities can come together to celebrate learning and strengthen reading cultures. In South Africa, libraries should also unapologetically celebrate the excellence of African literary culture.

The current state of Johannesburg’s libraries demonstrates an inequality and inefficient provision of the services that should be provided in such a public space; as well as poorly showcases the creativity our continent has to offer.

We want our libraries to become the spaces of imagination, creativity, inclusiveness and diversity that they have the potential to be. We believe that these proposed By-Law reforms, informed by our substantial research on current library conditions and international best practices, are a vital step to achieving this transformation.

Some key reforms being advocated:
• 50% of library materials should be African
• Each library should have a Community Library Forum
• The City of Johannesburg libraries must have a stand-alone website with online catalogue
• A library in every ward that meets minimum standards, to overcome the Apartheid legacy
• Ebook borrowing facilities
• 5% of city budget going to libraries

Petition By-Law
It is an international best practice of direct democracy for citizen initiatives to be debated in city, state/province, or national legislatures based on the number of signatories to those initiatives.

However, in the City of Johannesburg, all petitions are currently dealt with in the same way, regardless of the level of support they receive. The treating of all petitions in the same manner undermines the ability of citizens to mobilise around issues of grave importance. The lack of differentiated processes, depending on the level of support for a petition, has resulted in a backlog, without a procedure to rapidly resolve residents’ issues of high priority.

As a result, the ability of residents to escalate a serious issue is thus hindered. There is no mechanism by which residents can access previously lodged petitions and learn their outcomes. Ultimately, the lack of transparency of the petition process ostensibly creates a lamentable disconnection between the people and our government.

We want to improve public access to direct democracy, in the pursuit of a constitutionally just South Africa. We believe that adopting this Petition By-Law in the City of Johannesburg, will create a nationally admired precedent and mechanism for residents to resolve urgent grievances through effective democratic processes.

Consequences of the reforms being advocated:
• Creating a process for citizen inititatives to be heard
• Improving direct democracy in the city

For the full proposed Petitions By-Law, please see Annexure A
For the full proposed Library By-Law, please see Annexure B