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ICT connects SA communities, drives growth

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The pace at which ICT transforms our world has accelerated in the 21st century – and we are working hard to bring these benefits to all our fellow citizens, writes Lucky Mochalibane, head of department: corporate communications and marketing of the State Information Technology Agency (SITA).
The South African government is prioritising ICT rollout through a number of policies: the National Development Plan, Vision 2030; the Medium Term Strategic Framework; and the National Broadband Policy. It implements these through South Africa Connect (SA Connect), which is bringing inclusive broadband access to even the country’s most distant, rural areas, so people there can also benefit from the development and growth stimulus brought by ICT.
In Phase 1 of SA Connect as announced by the President at the beginning of 2015, will see government through the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services facilitating broadband connection services for schools, health clinics and other government facilities in the eight SA Connect pilot districts: Vhembe in Limpopo; OR Tambo in the Eastern Cape; Umzinyathi and Umgungundlovu in KwaZulu-Natal; Gert Sibande in Mpumalanga; Thabo Mofutsanyana in the Free State; Pixley ka Seme in the Northern Cape; and Dr Kenneth Kaunda in North West.
This is line with the commitments made under the Millennium Development Goals and other subsequent directives by the United Nations considerably when the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported on ICTs, enterprises and poverty alleviation five years ago. UNCTAD said: “The poor are not just deprived of basic resources. They lack access to information that is vital to their lives and livelihoods: information about market prices for the goods they produce, about health, about the structure and services of public institutions, and about their rights. They lack access to knowledge, education and skills development that could improve their livelihoods. They lack access to, and information about, income-earning opportunities.”
On the launch of the SA Connect, by State President Jacob Zuma in his State of the Nation Address in February this year, priority was placed on ICT access and use, recognising it as a basic need for survival, inclusive service delivery, individual self-respect and development. In South Africa, ICT access is driven by two factors – availability and cost.
Costs for data particularly have decreased quickly since new undersea cables on the country’s east and west coasts have come online in the past few years. But the cost of using ICT still deters many disadvantaged South Africans. The United Nations has set a benchmark for true ICT accessibility: personal ICT cost should cost no more than 5% of monthly income.
In response, the South African government has improved on this, setting itself a target of 2,5% of monthly income. Similarly, the International Telecommunications Union has set a target for internet user penetration of 60% worldwide, 50% in developing countries and 15% in the least developed countries by 2015.
The South African government plans to push forward with this, delivering internet access to 90% of South Africans by 2020. By 2030, it aims to achieve universal, high-speed access. SITA is highly involved, playing its part in that process which includes coordinating procurement from a range of companies and state-owned enterprises.
The government sees ICT bringing a range of cultural and practical socioeconomic benefits. ICT can contribute to social cohesion, while supporting cultural diversity and identity. Our country’s rich heritage of languages can find a niche in the vast spaces of the internet. This, in turn, can drive local development of software and applications that complement those languages. Similarly it is hoped that many more new devices can be developed and manufactured in South Africa – by South Africans, for South African needs and circumstances.
Informed and inspired by the vision to implement the SA Connect, and leveraging on the synergies between public, private and state companies to implement SA Connect, is a key subject of presentations and discussions at the 10th Government Technology Conference (GovTech), taking place this week at the Durban International Convention Centre.
The World Bank estimated that every 10% increase in broadband penetration increases a country’s GDP by 1,38% and a country’s employment by 0,28%, a point seemingly not lost to the South African government hence the determination to push broadband rollout to bring these payoffs to the people. The likes of SITA are central to the successful roll-out. In this they will be assisted by the local sphere of government which is admittedly at the coal-face of service delivery and citizen interaction.
SA Connect has identified the need for human capital development at all levels as a key element in successfully achieving social and economic inclusion in the information society and knowledge economy in which the country must operate. Localised ICT hubs will operate at several levels. Alongside, processing online services and transactions, these hubs will also equip adults with basic e-Skills to empower participants economically as well as personally.
Women in rural areas who engage in arts and crafts or subsistence farming, for example, will be able to market their products over a wider area, enabling them to receive better prices. SMMEs will be able to develop more sustainably with and through ICT brought to them by SA Connect.
Included in this rollout are adult citizen online programmes as well as others prioritising youth digital inclusion. This can make finding and applying for jobs much easier. But more than that, localised ICT hubs will be linked to iKamva National e-skills Institute (iNeSI), tackling skills shortages and empowering the youth to take an active role in ICT innovation and enterprise development.
Communities will also be able to communicate quickly and easily with each other and within communities when they leverage these hubs for their own needs. One example of such a project is the website for the township of Tlhabane in North West, which was launched in March this year by Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize.
This web site grew out of local concerns about gender-based violence and is seen as a safe space where women can register their concerns and explore opportunities for help and support. A project like this is multi-layered. It both enables and empowers specifically within its functional area and it also develops users who are enabled and empowered to use ICT more fully in their lives and, hopefully, to improve their livelihoods.
By legislation, SITA is placed at the forefront of SA Connect, by partnering with the Department of Telecommunications & Postal Services and other state organs to ensure the government that is ICT enabled and technologically empowered to deliver on core services all for the benefit of the South Africans. This multi-stakeholder approach to SA Connect aims to ensure cooperation among all stakeholders to ultimately deliver ICT solutions to all the people.
Currently, 43% of the world’s population has some regular access to the internet. SITA is partnering with government and industry to contribute to the UN reaching its 60% target by 2020 – with a boost from the 90% of South Africans who will be enjoying the opportunities offered by the internet by then.