The community of Mankosi, outside Ngqeleni in the Eastern Cape, has successfully developed South Africa’s first community-owned internet service provider.
The project, Zenzeleni Community Networks, provides communication networks to rural villagers. A project like this might also be a solution to the rising unemployment rate, especially to rural youth.
Far off the beaten track, poor connections often leave villagers off the network for days on end. But through technology, the internet is now always available.
The communication network came into being with the assistance of the University of the Western Cape. It is also affordable. Residents can connect wirelessly to the network for unlimited use at R25 per month.
Network co-founder Masibulele Siya says remote areas are often disadvantaged.
“In remote areas, we are very disadvantaged. In everything, we are very behind. We are talking about unemployment; we are having a problem. Service delivery, we are having problems. In everything, we are behind. So I will quote very few things – like for instance when it comes to buying airtime, to call your sister or your relative outside of your community, you pay a lot of money. For that reason, we decided to create our own network so that we can speak cheaply, so we can create more opportunities for people.”
The establishment of the Zenzeleni Community Network brought about a huge change in the outlook of the people in the area. A new world has opened for learners and job seekers. Individuals, non-governmental organisations and local schools also use the network.
Student Phatheka Siya says the network helped her apply for university online.
“The network helped me to apply online in university with other group of students. We were from high school then and it still helping us because we are able now to look for internships online while we are here. It helps us also to look for business opportunities to start our own business and it’s much affordable than the other networks.”
Job seeker Bongiwe Dlutu says the network assists her as she doesn’t have to go to town to apply for jobs.
“The network is assisting me as a freelancer because I don’t have to go to town to apply for jobs. I search for jobs online and do freelance online. I use the network before freelancing to apply for job opportunities for people in the community to apply for tertiary institutions,” Dlutu explains.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is now also not a foreign concept for the elderly anymore. The internet is alive in their homes.
Community member Nokhwezi Sigcawu says before the internet network, they used to buy airtime all the time. “Before we got this internet, we used to spend money to buy airtime, but now we use voucher. Our voucher is R25 then it spends 32 days and we speak as much as we can. We speak with our friends, our child outside the country who we are far from. The headman uses Wi-Fi for WhatsApp to speak to the community and to announce his general meetings.”
The Zenzeleni Community Networks was established in 2012. It created few job opportunities, with young people from the village receiving technical training in order to deal with network or connectivity glitches.
Now the idea is spreading. A similar project has now in place at Zithulele village in Mqanduli.