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Biophile Magazine -- » Digital Apartheid

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." Dalai Lama

Digital Apartheid

by Charles Ash

FILED IN: Activism · Issue 7


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Telkom’s greed has ensured that only the rich are able to use the internet on any practical level.


I was watching an 80s sci-fi flick the other day. It was set some time in 2005 and had the most amazing gadgets, many of which have made a seamless transition from sci-fi fantasy to everyday reality. The video-phone is a good example: at the time Blade Runner first screened, a video-phone seemed impossible. After all, analogue phone lines would never be able to carry data at the speeds required to support this device.

But, the American/Japanese/insert-favourite-progressive-non-African-country-here public with their insatiable appetite for technological advancement seemed determined to make the video-phone a reality.

Nowadays, with more than 68.5% of households in America connected to the internet via high-speed broadband, voice over IP (voip) an established technology and web cameras going for a song on Ebay or any other online e-tailer, the video phone is now old hat.

Fast forward now from Blade Runner’s overly optimistic future, to present-day South Africa, which seems impervious to the rest of the world’s astute decision to embrace cheap, widespread telecommunications technology. Because South Africa has its telecommunications infrastructure run by a corporate creature of great power and very little wisdom. With the ability to move faster than the speed of plummeting public opinion, it has sufficient magical might to conjure up images of normality through clever graphical and fact manipulation and sustained TV advertising campaigns depicting a technology utopia.

The people of South Africa are enslaved by this juggernaut corporate monstrosity. Things weren’t always this way though. South Africa at one time boasted a modern telecommunications infrastructure, possibly the best in Africa, with a pricing structure well within defined norms. Then, after liberating the country from the evils of apartheid, our government decided to cede control over the country’s telecommunications infrastructure to an entity which they believed would best serve the interests of the country’s citizens.

Soon after forging Telkom from the remnants of a dismantled government department, Telkom was mandated with the provisioning of affordable telecommunications infrastructure to all the citizens of the country. Telkom set about trying to appease the government with great zeal in the early days. Rolling out telephone lines where none existed before; providing a moderately improved service over its sloth-like, fossilized predecessor. The prognosis was good; the government and the people were almost happy for some time.


But for Telkom, growing up as an only child in a dysfunctional home, on a barely functional continent was not easy. Also, having a parent that is as infamous as Telkom’s foster-mom, Minister of Communications, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri (poster girl of the popular publication Incompetent Weekly) can’t be a very big help while you grapple with your own glaring incompetence. The combination of these factors would prove disastrous as the Telkom beast mutated into a hideous enemy of the people in later life.

For some reason, at the dawn of the 21st century, it became apparent to all and sundry that the Telkom child was going completely off the rails. The government seemed unable or unwilling to reign in their creation and it seemed as if all would be lost. What started out as normal teenage corporate rebellion quickly progressed into all-out lunacy. The Telkom beast soon found that it could score more points with the government by showing obscene profits, rather than actually fulfilling its original mandate. Also, as an only child with all the sweets in its fat, grubby paws, why share with the lesser beings on the social playground?

What we now see emerging from the Telkom beast’s complete stranglehold on the South African telecommunication landscape is the return of an old foe. If knowledge is power and the internet the world’s greatest repository of information, then the South African public with such limited and over-priced internet access must surely be a powerless and intellectually emaciated bunch.

Apartheid has returned and is lurking the land, in digital form. Much has been said about the digital-divide; the gap between the haves and the have-nots; the economic divide. Telkom’s greed has made sure that only the rich in South Africa are able to use the Internet on any practical level, further disenfranchising the gaunt, weakened minion masses and imposing digital apartheid on the people.

The South African economy stands on the precipice of colossal success, or dismal failure, depending on how fast we choose to liberalise our telecommunications infrastructure. The key to this is the cheap provisioning of adsl broadband services. Currently, Telkom’s adsl pricing is like a ball and chain around the South African economy, at 1000% above international pricing standards. In the African ocean of indifference, the South African economy seems to be buoyed only by hot air colloquiums and parliamentarians with empty heads.

What we need now is decisive action in addressing the insanely over-priced cost of adsl in South Africa. The beauty of digital apartheid is that it’s not a black thing or a white thing, it’s the one thing that we as South Africans can and should all join together and fight.

We MUST oppose Telkom’s pricing as it hampers our country’s growth and is keeping our people blissfully ignorant of the world of possibilities which cheap, high-speed Internet access will open up. In much the same manner that the gods of the land rallied the people to oppose the unjust system of social apartheid, we need to rally together now and with the same verve, oppose the onslaught of digital apartheid as implemented by the Telkom beast.

The telecommunications sector is in dire need of decisive and affirmative, ACTION!

PHANSI with Telkom’s pricing PHANSI! VIVA Cheap Internet VIVA!

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