The South African government’s civic engagement platform, GovChat, has requested an interdict from the Competition Tribunal to prevent Facebook from removing their service from its WhatsApp platform.
GovChat is the platform being used by the South African government to engage with citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was launched in 2018 under the department of cooperative governance & traditional affairs. It offers a “chatbot” on WhatsApp that is used by government to engage with citizens. It was created to allow the department to “monitor and evaluate provinces’ and municipalities’ service delivery, response times, failures and successes, and corruption, in real time”.
“The applicants, GovChat (Pty) Ltd and Hashtag Letstalk (Pty) Ltd, are asking the tribunal to interdict and restrain Facebook/WhatsApp from removing (“offboarding”) them from the WhatsApp platform pending the outcome of a complaint which they submitted to the Competition Commission,” the Competition Tribunal said, according to TechCentral.
By removing GovChat from WhatsApp’s API, it will no longer be able to “render services to the government and citizens at the height of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa and will force the applicants out of business”.
GovChat has been used extensively throughout the country during the Covid-19 pandemic and its removal could interrupt critical social grant processes as well as attempts to trace Covid-19 transmissions.
“After the Covid-19 outbreak, GovChat diverted (its focus) to assisting the government with Covid-19 education and awareness, symptom tracking, the provision of test results, and enabling citizens to apply for urgent social relief grants and distress grants.”
The tribunal will hear the case via an online hearing today.