Government has launched an initiative to bring broadband internet to rural communities in the Eastern Cape, in a bid to modernise farmers and create new industries.
Speaking at the launch of the OR Tambo Broadband Project, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said that broadband internet can transform rural economies and help them to overcome digital isolation.
“Universal access to broadband is critical to inclusive economic growth,” he said. “Technology provides us with a powerful tool in our struggle to overcome the legacy of apartheid dispossession and exploitation, to address our skills deficit, to create jobs and to eradicate poverty.”
The project will focus on the Mhlontlo and King Sebata Dlaindyebo municipalities, and will see schools and clinics get a digital upgrade, with businesses and households following suit at some point in the future.
Local sub-contractors have already benefitted from the project, with 15 SMMEs having been trained to work on 609 different sites in the two areas.
“We must use the success of this project – and the lessons learnt here – to advocate for the acceleration of the national broadband roll-out programme,” added Ramaphosa, who seems well aware of the massive digital divide in South African society.
Whether government will now intensify efforts to upgrade more rural areas remains to be seen. As of the latest Stats SA general household survey, only 59,3% of South Africans have access to the internet, with a measly 9,5% of the population having a connection at home.
Mobile data use has grown immensely in recent years, but high costs and limited coverage in rural areas continue to hold people back from the internet’s full potential.