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Wi-Fi hotspots bridging the digital gap one township corner at a time

By Cebisile Mbonani

Wi-Fi hotspots in different fast-food places in Soweto are attracting scores of people from different walks of life. Some stand, others find rocks to sit on, but all focused on their devices, accessing the Wi-Fi.

For many young people in the township, high data and living costs leave them digitally disadvantaged. Having access to the Internet means more young people can have access to information, education, and employment opportunities.

Lungelo Ntuli, an 18-year-old, finished high school last year (2021). She stands at a free Wi-Fi spot in Orlando East, Soweto about three times a week. She wants to study business management and administration. The Wi-Fi helps Ntuli apply and look for opportunities to study next year, "The Wi-Fi is helpful. If I don't have data, I use it to apply and research about my academics next year." Learners also use it to complete their schoolwork.

Tshabalira Lebakeng, a journalism student from Orlando East, Soweto, had a virtual interview. The night before his interview, he was worried about Internet access. A friend told him about the free Wi-Fi just around the corner of the Lebakeng's home. "There is free Wi-Fi at Chippa's Corner," said Lebakeng's family friend.

One block away from Lebakeng's home, next to a fast-food joint, is a network point provided by Think Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi spot provides free connectivity for up to 100 m from the fast-food joint.

On each street corner close to the Wi-Fi mast, you’ll find people standing there, connecting to the Internet. It was raining on the day of the interview, but Lebakeng found himself a space at the fast-food shop and waited for his 3pm virtual interview. "It was raining on the day of my interview. People made noise while I was on the call, but my interview was successful because I could access the internet through this free Wi-Fi."

The issue of access to the internet does not only affect young people, but Bongani Zwane (42) from Zone 5, Orlando, Soweto, works as a recycler and uses the Wi-Fi hotspot at Chippas corner about 3 - 4 times a week. "I mostly use the Wi-Fi to download current affairs and documentary videos," said Zwane.

Fighting Digital poverty

Janine Rebelo, CEO of Think Wi-Fi, a company providing free Wi-Fi across disadvantaged communities in South Africa, said that digital poverty is a real problem in South Africa, and they want to fight it. "In this country, we have a real problem. Without access to the internet, you are excluded from the digital economy." said Rebelo. She termed this 'digital poverty' and said it was related to financial poverty.

She said Think Wi-Fi has over 460 access points in five provinces. Think Wi-Fi would like to connect with more than 11 million people in the future, "The aim with Think Wi-Fi is to look at how we can reduce poverty, how we can reduce inequality, how we can help increase the economies in each of these areas." said Rebelo.


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