By Siyanda Makhubo
In South Africa, access to the internet should be considered a basic human right. The need to communicate and access the internet has in recent years increasingly become a human right as more and more basic services including education, the need to move in the form of transportation, and in some instances for food and clothing where platforms such as Jumia offer such services. It is for this very reason that the country’s laws should now be amended to reflect this importance, and for governments across Africa to allocate spectrum so as to connect its citizens to realize social responsibilities attached to internet connectivity.
Jumia, the leading pan-African e-commerce platform active in six regions in Africa, consists of 14 countries where in South Africa it trades as Zando.
The platform consists of marketplace, which connects sellers with consumers, logistics service, which enables the shipment and delivery of packages from sellers to consumers, and payment service, which facilitates transactions among participants active on platform in selected markets.
It main mission is to improve the quality of everyday life in Africa by leveraging technology to deliver innovative, convenient and affordable online services to consumers, while helping businesses grow as they use our platform to reach and serve consumers.
This is important as it ultimately connects with the South African’s government’s move to increase internet connectivity.
It needs to be stated that In South Africa for instance, it is the wealthy and those in urban areas that control their access to the internet, which is easily available to them, the poor, which make up the majority of the population, have to resort to disproportionately high rates for data to access the internet.
The poor pay higher costs because they cannot afford to pay for data in bulk whereas those who were better off could do so in terms of data contracts or fixed ADSL and fibre lines.
The logic here is that if you pay more you get it cheaper, but that logic fundamentally violates human rights on a large scale.
Government promises to give every South African 10GB of free data a month
In her response to the President’s state of the nation address in February, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says that every South African will be given access to the internet as a core utility.
Ntshavheni further stated that advancements in technology such as 5G and the planned release of valuable data spectrum will lead to the government offering ‘prescribed minimum data’ to the home.
“Data has become a new utility like water and electricity that our home needs. At some point, a South African household, despite whether they are rich or poor, will be given access to 10GB per month, because that is what the government will deliver,” she said.
The government has previously mooted giving free basic data to low-income users, similar to the stipends that it currently offers for water and electricity, in a national infrastructure plan published by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) in August 2021.
The plan also states that high-speed broadband will be available and accessible in every community by 2023/24.
If the country was serious about driving equality, the provision of spectrum and data to all South Africans was realised as announced by the Minister, this would mean that many fundamental human rights would be realised, and that people would then have equal access to data in order to access the internet or communicate.
Similar points were raised by civil rights group “Right To Know” (R2K) during its presentation to the Data Services Market Inquiry.
R2K’s submission highlighted how the cost of communication in South Africa was undermining people’s basic rights to access and share information – their right to communicate.
“As always, it is the poorest of the poor who are hurt the most,” the report concluded.
R2K maintains that the high cost of communication in South Africa is directly linked to systemic failures of policy and implementation by the government, and lack of regulation and competition in the telecommunications industry.
The organisation added that South Africa has one of the most expensive data prices in the world – even when adjusted for cost of living.
To put this into perspective, India only charges R11 for 1GB, Nigeria charges R22, Ghana R71, Russia R24 and Vodacom in Tanzania charges R98 for 1GB but R149 in South Africa.
South Africa has the second highest data contract prices compared to other BRICS-member countries (namely Brazil, China, India, Russia). Even at R99, Telkom has not managed to exert price pressure on MTN and Vodacom.
This cuts out almost half of South Africans who are unable to afford the high price points of these major players.
The world is evidently increasingly moving into a digital space, the marginalised will be further left behind if they are unable to afford access to the internet.
Siyanda Makhubo is the Group Public Relations and Communications Manager for Jumia since December 2021. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, Law and Sociology, an Honours Degree in Marketing and Communications, a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration and is currently studying for an MBA with the University of the Witswatersrand.
He has more than seven years of professional experience in Communication, Risk and Reputation, Crisis Communication and PR Advocacy both in the Public and Private sectors.
His interests lie in the subject of utilizing the PR and Communications system for social justice.