Index > Publications > Publication Details

Publication Details

Telecentres and poor communities in South Africa

what have we learnt?

Heidi Attwood
Einar Braathen


Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) euphoria reached the international development agenda in the 1990s (Woods 1993, ITU 1994, World Bank 1998), along with concern for an emerging ‘digital divide’ within and between countries (Civille 1995, Castells 1996). The post-apartheid government of South Africa took a global lead in the policy process and hosted the Information Society and Development Conference in 1996. In year 2000, “making ICTs available” was included in the Millennium Development Goals. Ten years later a MDG report states that while mobile telephony had seen an explosive diffusion, only 1 in 6 people in the developing world could access the internet (UNDP 2010). In South Africa, the figure was even lower: the percentage of the population categorised as ‘internet users’ had increased from 5.4% in 2000 to only 8.8% in 2009 (ITU 2010). Apparently the policy for universal internet access has not had much success, either globally or in South Africa. This paper addresses the South African policy for poor people’s access to computers and internet, which is in line with international recommendations, such as the WSIS's Action Plan (2005), which notes  "connecting villages with ICTs and establishing community access points" tool in this respect in South Africa, namely telecentres. The cases are from a participatory action research project, named Community-based Learning, ICTs and Quality-of-life (CLIQ) in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. The overall goal of CLIQ was to find out whether, after needs-based training, access to ICTs can improve the well-being of poorer people as defined by them. Thus it is not only poor people’s access to ICT, but also its social impact, that has informed this CLIQ project.

An unexpected discovery of the project was that even those telecentres that were assumed to be wellfunctioning, did not function properly. In order to be assets in the struggle against poverty, their functionality must be addressed. Hence the lion’s share of the paper (section 5) discusses not only the technical and administrative preconditions, but also certain social factors that influence the functioning of telecentres in poorer communities. It concludes with suggestions as to what should be done 2010-2020.

Publication Type(s)

Conference Paper

Ten Years of War Against Poverty Conference Papers

Conference: Ten Years of War Against Poverty


1 Telecentres and poor communities in South Africa... PDF 131.8 KB

Back to previous page