The South African government is partnering with the World Economic Forum to launch South Africa Internet for All, a platform project that aims to bring millions of South Africans, including those in rural areas, on to the Internet for the first time, using new models of public-private collaboration.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimates that about 52% of South Africans currently access the Internet.

The project, which is aligned to the National Development and South Africa Connect plans, will address the barriers that prevent universal internet access: infrastructure connectivity, affordability, skills and awareness, and relevant content; and also explore how Internet for All can better support the development of e-government services and SMEs.

Siyabonga Cwele, minister of telecommunications and postal services, comments: “The partnership with the World Economic Forum and local partners will help us accelerate our efforts to connect South Africans to the benefits of the internet. We are very pleased to welcome the World Economic Forum to South Africa to partner with the government on Internet for All. We value inclusive, multi-stakeholder efforts that will help bring many more South Africans on to the Internet.”

Partner organisations such as Cisco, Digital Opportunity Trust, Ericsson, Huawei, Microsoft, MTN and Telkom work on the global Internet for All platform together with government, civil society, academia and international organisations to develop and scale new internet access models, attract and co-ordinate investments, and align programming.

Jabu Mabuza, chairman of Telkom group, says the project “creates fertile ground for sustainable, accelerated, inclusive economic growth in Africa. We are pleased to partner with the World Economic Forum on the Internet for All initiative, where we can demonstrate our commitment to the promotion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa as a catalyst for inclusive growth.”

Country-level Internet for All platforms are already operating in Argentina, Rwanda and Uganda, where they have so far succeeded in developing major projects such as Rwanda’s Digital Ambassadors Program, a skills development activity that will train 5 000 trainers who will work in rural Rwanda to teach digital skills to 5-million people.

Janet Longmore, founder and CEO of Digital Opportunity Trust, an organisation involved in the programme, notes: “The Digital Ambassadors Program brings together government, the private sector and civil society to help citizens access a growing number of e-services in Rwanda, and to develop and support young women and men as digital champions and job creators. The programme is a collaborative response to community need, and offers a potential model for adoption by South Africa to close the digital divide.”