Bridging the Gap: Technology Access in South Africa

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SLINGER, Washington — South Africa has one of the most unequal societies in the world, especially in terms of its digital divide. Technology access in South Africa is a struggle for people of lower socioeconomic status in the country. As a result of the high price of technology, the digital divide exists for those with and without internet access.

Only 10% of households in South Africa have internet access. Other developing countries have an average of 50% access rates. The cost of equipment is a primary reason for the access barrier. Out of all South African households, 35% saw no reason to access the internet due to their lower socioeconomic status. If people are not able to afford technology, they feel that they have no use for internet access. This creates an even larger gap in the wealth divide because of the difficulties in affording equipment.

People with higher incomes are more likely to get a good education and, therefore, will have better skills for their future careers. The skills that they learn often include those related to technology and digital literacy. Unfortunately, this contributes to a widening wealth divide, which creates an uneven distribution of technology access in South Africa.

Segregation and the Wealth Divide

Private companies do not have many incentives to introduce more affordable internet access. Instead, they prioritize monetization of investments, which is currently being accomplished in urban areas. As a result, rural areas in South Africa are not given as much access to the internet due to the small likelihood of monetizing investments. The process would cost more money to implement than companies would earn, leading investors to avoid working in rural areas.

Race, socioeconomic status and education are related to technology access. For example, those who live in high-income areas of South Africa and those who have a high school diploma are more likely to have regular access to computers. This is also true of young people who live in the city. This reinforces the segregation that is prevalent in South Africa, further dividing people based on factors such as race and socioeconomic status.

People in lower-class areas of South Africa also lack access to basic services, training and employment opportunities. This results in people struggling with digital literacy skills and content creation, which makes it difficult to get high-paying jobs and higher education.

Potential Solutions

The South African government has been working to create more affordable internet access across the country. Its aim is to increase the average broadband speed from 10mbps to 100mbps. The South African government has also been developing new methods to make quality education available to everybody, regardless of socioeconomic status. This would help the country fight against poverty and segregation, giving people a pathway out of the cycle of poverty.

The G20 created three main proposals in order to accomplish this: identify digital skills that employers require, establish these skills by supplying institutions with the equipment needed and respond to the socio-cultural norms that inhibit women from getting access to training. Not only would this provide technology access in South Africa, but it would also create more opportunities for future careers.

Lastly, many NGOs and NPOs have been finding creative ways to provide free Wi-Fi in certain locations, such as Lotus Park and Harare Square in South Africa. Others are creating opportunities for young people to increase their digital literacy through workshops that are offered in Monwabisi Park and Harare Square.

Although technology access in South Africa faces a severe digital divide, these new initiatives to introduce widespread access show promise. With the help of the South African government, the G20 and various nonprofit organizations, the population of South Africa can hopefully access the benefits of technology in the near future.

Miranda Kargol
Photo: Flickr

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