The Polity website offers free access to South African legislation, policy documents and daily political and economic news, and is published by independent publisher Creamer Media.
Kenneth Creamer, CEO of Creamer Media, publisher of Polity.org.za, reports that the website is one of the oldest in South Africa, having been developed in the mid-1990s by Tim Jenkin, a political activist who was in exile in London during the anti-apartheid struggle. The activists set up a basic communication system, which was a precursor to email, in order to facilitate communication between underground structures in London, South Africa and Zambia.
After the unbanning of the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations and the advent of democracy, Jenkin and his colleagues developed the website which it hoped would become the official website for government, as the government had at the time not yet developed a website.
"Jenkin realised that good government and democracy is facilitated by access to information. He was very close to the Constitutional development process and other parliamentary happenings, and as such many of the related documents were placed on the website," says Creamer.
However, the government had in fact established its own website and by 1998 Polity had run out of momentum.
Recognising the wealth of archival information and its potential to enhance democracy going forward, Creamer Media purchased the Polity website from Unwembi Communications, a company in which Jenkin was involved, in 2002 and began to invigorate and update the online content.
"We truly support the mission of Polity, which is to deepen democracy through access to information. It also afforded us the opportunity to spread our wings into areas of publishing we were traditionally not involved with," says Creamer.
Today the website offers one convenient platform for a vast array of current and historical information dealing with policy, legislation, politics and economics.
Documents date as far back as 1993 and Polity is one of the few websites to offer copies of the South African Constitution in all of South Africa's official languages.
Legislation and policy documents are stored on the website, and make for interesting reading, allowing readers to access critical laws that have shaped the development of South Africa's democracy.
Documents for public comment can also be found on the website, along with notices and regulations, budget information and speeches made by government officials and other significant groupings.
Regular columnists and guest writers offer analysis of current events, while recommended topics range from world politics, through to trade, human rights, energy, climate change and the environment and African politics.
Creamer says users of the website include the legal fraternity (even a judge or two), non-governmental organisations, policy groupings, students as well as the business community.
"This is the place where decision makers come to find significant policy and legal information. But as it is a free service it is accessible to all people wishing to find out more about legal and policy issues that will impact their lives," says Creamer.
Users are not required to register, but can do so if they wish to receive a free daily newsletter, which is at present sent to over 20 000 people each weekday.
This newsletter has been a powerful tool in enhancing the reach of the website, in addition to daily podcast and regular video interviews with South African opinion-makers like Ebrahim Fakir, Aubrey Matshiqi and Raymond Suttner.
"Polity has enormous potential to become well entrenched as indispensable to the market place in terms of quick access to policy information, it is getting deeper and more powerful every day," says Creamer. "Our challenge is to drive more users to the site, so that Polity becomes a household name in the area of policy and legal information."