Public Access Computing in South Africa: Old Lessons and New Challenges
Work data:ISSN: 1681-4835
Type of work: Article (academic)
Categories:ICT & Information Society | ICT4D
The public access computing (PAC) ecosystem in South Africa includes public libraries, telecenters, and cybercafés. These PAC venues offer marginalized and underserved populations opportunities to use computers and the Internet to meet their information needs. Based primarily on interviews with telecenters and cybercafé staff, and on focus group workshops with telecenter and cybercafé users, we assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of telecenters and cybercafés and their contribution to community development. Government-sponsored telecenters continue to exhibit the same problems reported a decade ago, and libraries are slow in offering technological services. However, cybercafés set up through entrepreneurial initiatives fulfill an increasingly important niche and introduce a strategic business model for entrepreneurs in disadvantaged communities. Learning from the experience of cybercafés can be an effective way to overcome the shortcomings of telecenter experiences of the last decade in South Africa. New business models in the PAC ecosystem, such as the entrepreneur model, need to be rooted within a developmental agenda in order to ensure that ICT facilitate meaningful outcomes amongst needy communities and that a local context for the social appropriation and effective use of ICTs prevails.