Since joining the Open Governance Partnership in 2011, South Africa has been committed to addressing the ‘grand challenge’ of open governance through improving public services, creating safer communities and increasing accountability.
This article contrasts this supranational commitment to open governance with accounts of citizens’ everyday engagement with the state at a micro-level. Based on a year of multi-sited ethnography, the article highlights the value of bringing people – in this case, HIV-positive citizens living in Khayelitsha, Cape Town – into focus through a series of visual participatory processes in which they share their experience of public service provision and engagement with the state.
The article reflects, first, on how citizens ‘see’ the state in relation to service delivery and, second, on how they ‘speak’ to the state as members of civil society. It offers an understanding of how citizens themselves perceive ‘open governance’ in their everyday lives.