Classifieds giant Gumtree has partnered with Project Isizwe to bring free WiFi to low-income communities across South Africa, starting with a large roll-out in the City of Tshwane.

The initiative plans to create capacity to connect over 1-million people in the municipality by August 2014 via 219 “Free Internet Zones”, with even greater capacity planned for the 2015.

“As one of the biggest Internet sites in South Africa, the partnership was a natural strategic fit for Gumtree,” says country manager Johan Nel.

“Our aim is not only to connect economically disadvantaged individuals to the Internet for the first time – we also have the larger goal of connecting those individuals with opportunities such as 60 000 jobs registered on our site, or to gain free exposure for their own businesses by tapping into the platform and our user base.”

The Isizwe Project was founded by Alan Knott-Craig Jnr as a non-profit organisation with the goal of bringing connectivity to people in low income communities through free WiFi zones placed in various locations across the country.

The first phase of the project was launched in November 2013 at six campuses and activity hubs across Tshwane in what has been dubbed “a ground-breaking initiative for the city” by Executive Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa. The second phase will see an additional 213 Free Internet Zones roll out in Soshanguve, Mamelodi and Atteridgeville.

Each of the Free Internet Zone (FIZ) locations allow users with WiFi enabled devices such as mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers to access free internet without any logins or passwords. A fair usage policy limits users to a data cap of 250MB per device per day and prohibits access to certain sites to protect against abuse of the free service.

However, once the cap has run out, users will still be able to access a specialised content portal known as Tobetsa – which includes access to Gumtree’s portal for job seekers and educational information.

“Connectivity is crucial to the economy. In emerging nations such as China, Brazil and India, the Internet contributed as much as 11% to the growth of their GDP in recent years,” says Nel.

“There are also social benefits, such as better access to services and healthcare, greater productivity and lower energy consumption due to improved efficiencies. This project is going to have a very positive impact on the community and we are extremely pleased to be a part of it.”

Project Isizwe and Gumtree plan to shortly roll-out the same initiative at an initial eight low-income schools in Atlantis and Robertson in the Western Cape, connecting 20 000 people before expanding further across the province.