In a previous post I looked at the issue of the digital divide. From that comes the question; what is being done about the unequal development of countries in the information age? The answer, or at least part of it, is the introduction of information and communication technologies (ITCs).
In South Africa there are a number of challenges to the widespread use of ICTs. Just as the digital divide happens between developed and developing countries, it also occurs between rural and urban areas with any country.
South Africa’s rural areas are behind urban areas in terms of infrastructure, literacy, household income and computer and telephone access. Because of the costs that go into ICTs calls for cost-effective facilities that the community can share.
In an effort to increase access and availability of government information and services, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) has introduced Thusong Service Centres, previously known as Multi-Purpose Community Centres.
Dr. Essop Pahad, Minister in The Presidency, described Thusong Service Centres as “one-stop centres providing integrated services and information from government to communities”. These centres provide the community with access to print and electronic media to allow for communication with their government.
According to the GCIS, there are 66 service centres in the country. These centres would are needed more in communities with the lowest access to landline or cellular telephones, computers and the internet.
Households in the Limpopo province have the lowest number of landlines, computers and internet access. They are 7th in the ranking for cellphone access. Only 7.1% of their households have landlines, 4.4% have computers, 3% have internet access and 26.1have access to cellphones.
Limpopo has nine Thusong Community Centres, the third highest number in the country. Each centre services an average of 14 824 people.
The Western Cape has the most access to landline telephones, computers per household and the internet. They are second in the rank for cellphone access. It is therefore quite interesting that they have the second most community centres in the country.
According to South Africa’s Telecommunication Act, the Universal Service Agency is mandated with to promote universal access and services. Together with NEPAD, the e-school project was launched in 11 African countries including South Africa. The idea is for each e-school cyberlab to have computers, photocopier, fax machine and printer to be shared by under-serviced communities.
E-schools and Thusong Service Centres assist in the development of businesses, education and e-politics, through access to information and services. By informing and educating the masses, the state allows for greater political involvement.
It would be worthwhile to look at how successful ICTs have been in promoting e-governance, but, that’s a topic for another post.