In between taking part in the Comrades Marathon on Sunday, I had my weekly trek to buy the Sunday papers from the local store. Getting to the shops isn’t a quick zip down the street however. From here, ekhaya kwaMhlaba Osizweni, to the nearest shops that stock the full array of Sunday papers, is exactly a quarter of the comrades marathon. Quite a distance for the average person living kwaMhlaba or any of the surrounding rural areas; given that the average resident doesn’t drive or cycle or can barely afford the R20 round trip!
When I got round to reading the Sunday Times I was greeted by Sipho Maseko’s open letter, splashed on the entire third page, addressed to the main political leaders in the country. He challenges the politicians to join the conversation on the digital economy and specifically asks what South Africa ought to do to participate in the digital economy, thereby avoiding the adverse effects of continued exclusion of its people. I couldn’t agree more, Mr Maseko! the digital divide does not only debilitate the participation of South africans in the global economy, Mr. Maseko, it hampers their participation in the economy of their very own country!
To a large extent, the letter is synonymous with the views of some of the very political leaders it is addressed to. They are well versed in the discourse on the potential of ICTs and impending opportunities presented by the 4th industrial revolution. Granted, it only bodes well that South Africa’s ICT policies are refined and the digital economy is sung from the same proverbial hymn sheet, across the political landscape. What I find more opportune for South Africa is that the spirit of the letter coincides with the wave of tech driven platforms, representing the amazing energy of ecosystem players; such as R&D institutions, tech innovators (developers, App junkies, bloggers) and ordinary entrepreneurs whose ideas are inspired by technology.
So inspired to join the conversation, I spent the better half of my Monday morning trying to locate Mr Maseko’s email address or that of someone in his office. I presumed that the easiest and most obvious way to get hold of anyone at Telkom, to engage about this exciting ICT revolution, would be best served through the internet. I Googled, got onto Twitter, LinkedIn and also tried through the Future Makers Programme. I even went so far as to call the Telkom customer service number…alas, none of the guys knew who Sipho Maseko is or had an email to the head office!
I’m not only worried that the intended recipients may have an equally rough time trying to get hold of Mr Maseko, but think the letter would be better served if it were addressed to the ecosystem entrepreneurs and techies with everyday solutions to our challenges. Solutions to our most disenfranchised are out there amongst the private sector and individuals yearning to be heard. Technology and opportunity wait for no one! The unfortunate reality is that the further the majority of South Africans fall behind the technology curve, the more opportunities pass them by.
Place innovative platforms like the Future Makers Programme on the top of your priority list, Mr Maseko, and allow our ideas and views to form the basis of your conversation with the political leadership.
Let’s have the right national conversation for the benefit of all South Africans.
12 June 2018