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Cape Digital Foundation - Digital Inequality

There’s a lot of global hype around “Smart” Cities being the solution to multiple urban issues, yet they often fail to meet the desired socio economic results and rather exacerbate inequality in an African context. There remains little focus on what “smart” means for the majority of Africa’s urbanizing populations. Digital inequality persists and is pervasive within South Africa’s townships*

In 2017 I was invited to head up the struggling Cape Digital Foundation, and tasked with “turning the organisation around”. In under a year I raised operational funding, repaired damaged relationships within Government and repositioned the Foundation with a clear and relevant “Smart Township” strategy going forward. This strategy included a more bottom up approach; community collaboration and co-creation and small scale interventions.

“Smart Townships” included five core pillars: Connectivity, Affordability, Digital Skills, Hyperlocal Content and Data. In a little over a year we established South Africa’s first Smart Township in an area called Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay, Cape Town; rolling out affordable connectivity with our WiFi provider, implementing digital skills to SME's and women and launched our first hyperlocal 'TV' station, delivering daily content made by the community video journalists. All content was zero rated. In that time, provision of affordable data retained R17.5million in a community of approx. 35,000 people, in comparison to what would have been spent on data from mobile operators.  

This new strategy gained attention and momentum with local and foreign governments, the private sector and institutions such as the World Economic Forum (Internet for All).

*The term “townships” is a relic from Apartheid, yet the nomenclature endures. cf Wikipedia: In South Africa, the term township usually refers to the often underdeveloped racially segregated urban areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of apartheid, were reserved for non-whites, namely Indians, Africans and Coloureds. Townships were usually built on the periphery of towns and cities.

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