20 August 2018

I joined Project Isizwe 18 Months ago and have come to realize that – while we enable the deployment of public WiFi hotspots in low-income communities – we are also strongly advocating for digital inclusion for the poor (those that cannot afford internet access in the comfort of their homes)

My work requires me to operate within the tech-environment and it is imperative that we raise awareness about the necessity for -and impact of internet connectivity for the poor.

During the past 5 years, Project Isizwe, as a non-profit organization, has been enabling the deployment of Free WiFi infrastructure in low-income communities across South Africa.

To date, we have connected over 4 million people to the internet and our business model includes partnering with both local, provincial and/or national government as well as private entities – often through CSI or intervention specific programmes.

We all know how expensive the cost of data is in South Africa. It is even more so for the poor.

Let us use Bophelong as an example -one of the poorest identified areas in the Vaal. The median average monthly income of a family of five is approximately R1600. The monthly expenditure for data will be between R100-200 per user; at such a high cost, mobile data is unaffordable by residents from low-income communities, and I do not suppose a local ISP would charge far less for in-house internet connectivity.

Based on projects we are currently running (amongst others in Tembisa here in Gauteng, and in other provinces such as Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal) – we see first-hand how people in low-income communities are digitally excluded.

Low-income communities are already excluded when you look at education, economic development and social inclusion, and in the 21st century, if you are not digitally included, your exclusion is just made worse.

We now function in the day and age where access to primary, secondary and tertiary education, applying for jobs and running your business requires you to have access to the internet.

Building a sustainable South Africa requires us to be connected, so we can all take part in the digital economy. This has become an indisputable requisite in our digitally advancing world.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that we as enablers and inventors in the technology space find solutions to this challenge, as citizens from less-affluent areas also have a role and contribution to make in the broader scheme of the country’s economy.

I had an opportunity to have coffee with one of the Marketing Directors for the ‘My First Nokia’ campaign. She explained to me that how during those few months of the campaign – which saw an increase in the amount of people buying mobile phones – African countries also saw an increase in their GDP.

Like our mobile phones – is but the vehicle, the enabler for all of us. However, using a mobile phone in the 21st century without access to the internet is pointless. We cannot use our phone for the purpose of connecting socially, doing research or sending emails – if we are not connected.

We have so many entrepreneurs in townships who run their businesses via their mobile phones while connected to free WiFi.

This is the gold of being connected.

However, the harsh reality is that South Africa still struggle with setting the mere infrastructure in place that millions of citizens need to bridge the digital divide.

Digital exclusion has resulted in the socio-economic exclusion of millions of citizens in our country and on the African continent as a whole, and we all have a role to play in bridging this divide.

By: Dudu Mkhwanazi, CEO