- Posted January 23, 2014 by
Pretoria, South Africa
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South African Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim on tackling inequality through ICT
To what extent does ICT contribute to the South African economy?
CARRIM: Well, it's not contributing to the extent it should. It's about 6% of the GDP, but its outcomes are very uneven. It serves largely the relatively advantaged sectors of our society. It contributes to the growth of the economy as a whole, but it's not inclusive enough. It's not helping to reduce the inequalities and the Government’s goal now, with this new ICT green paper and the white paper that will follow, is to ensure that ICT contributes more to level the differences between the haves and the have-nots, between the connected and the not-connected. Our country has made enormous strides since 1994, but unfortunately we've also contributed inadvertently towards increasing some of our divides. So we are clear that ICT has to contribute to reducing our social and other inequalities.
What role can ICT play in the South African economy going forward? What is the government’s role in facilitating increased adoption of ICT among all segments of society?
CARRIM: Well, in the first instance, I think we need to make people aware, poor people in particular. This is a role both for mobile operators and the state-owned companies together with government. We need to make them aware that the cell phone is not simply to make voice calls, or SMS, but that it has huge potential to actually create spaces for people, poor people in particular, to find self-employment, and to improve their standards of living in other ways.
In a country where we have significant unemployment and the prospects of absorbing the unemployment in the formal economy are limited, we need to look at ICT. We need to look at the cell phone in particular, and see how it can help. Now there are other developing countries, not least on our own continent, who have used the cell phone for a variety of other services. For example in Kenya, if you think of IMPESA, as it's called. The way the unbanked can use the cell phone to transact, by for example, transferring money from one part of the country to another even though they do not have accounts in financial institutions or banks. For example, in other parts of the world I'm told emerging farmers are able to use even the most simple of cell phones to work out what the prospects are for their say, tomatoes for that matter, getting a good deal on the market. So they can decide on a Tuesday, they're not going to go that very same day to the local market, they will go to some other market down the road maybe 20km away, to another village and sell their tomatoes in that market for a higher price. There are all these possibilities.
It is said that globally, in the times to come, people will not use money. We're evolving towards, in some measure or another, a cashless economy where you can use your cell phone almost like a credit card. Now if that's going to be something you and I are going to do as middle class people, why shouldn't the poor and the disadvantaged do that even more, because they are the people for whom the cell phone and other aspects of the ICT sector is most necessary. So in short, we think that our broadband policy will in fact in the initial instance lead to government providing the impetus for universal broadband by ensuring that schools, health sector institutions, that's both clinics and hospitals, police stations, and other government departments are connected with broadband so that our service delivery can be enhanced.
So that the poor, for example, can reduce the costs for the distances they have to travel to get basic services on health. So that learners in schools can use ICT to actually go beyond the confines of what a limited education of a teacher in their school would provide for.
So in short, our main concern is to ensure that ICT reaches everybody but primarily the poor and the disadvantaged. Our concern is to ensure that with our broadband policy, e-Government services are accelerated. Our concern is to show that all the potential of our 1994 transition to democracy lead by that wonderful global icon Nelson Mandela are realized. Our concern is to ensure that while we have made significant progress since 1994, the inequalities that have regrettably arisen are significantly and drastically reduced and we think the ICT sector is utterly crucial to our broader goals for economic development, for growth, and for job creation.