Department of Communications, South African Government

Dr Harold Wesso
Deputy Director (Strategy and Policy), Department of Communications, South African Government, Pretoria (formerly led ICT strategy for the Western Cape Provincial Government).

The Western Cape government tried to ‘give a new flavour to ICT’ as being mainly concerned with social development. It established a Centre for E-Innovation, not only to manage the WC government’s ICT needs, but also to involve communities and facilitate socio-economic development at the local level. A key element is the Cape Gateway Portal. In order to gain ‘buy in’ and ownership by communities (rather than ‘computer dumping’ into communities) they established ‘e-community forums’ initially in six communities. A main aim was to engage young people to become ICT activists and leaders in their communities – identifying issue and problems to see how ICT could facilitate community projects. This was how they came to engage with Community Informatics or Development Informatics. At the same time they were working on e-government – trying to change the way that government operates, and the portal assisted with that also. Thus a holistic view was taken of ICTs in the government domain, ICTs in society, ICTs in communities. Now with the Dept of Communications in the national government, his role is to develop policy in areas such as digital migration and broadband strategies, but he is also seeking to move the Department towards a Community or Development Informatics kind of perspective. A great deal of good work is done on the technologies themselves, but this is insufficient. People will only see the benefits of ICTs through personal experience: the Minister uses her grandmother as a benchmark case! There is a focus in the Department on harnessing ICTs for social development. While not losing the focus on technology, there is added a focus on the social appropriation of technology. Dr Wesso is working on an ‘ICT for all’ strategy that will seek to bring together universities, NGOs, the public sector, the private sector, and foundations such as the Shuttleworth Foundation to gain greater synergy among the many initiatives currently under way – to provide greater benefits for all people. South Africa recognises its role in the social appropriation of ICT Africa-wide. South Africa has a good basis for the social appropriation of technology in the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, and the new Convergence Act. A comprehensive e-government strategy is going to Cabinet in the next month or so. A major current priority is 2010 when South Africa will host the FIFA World Cup – this presents a major window of opportunity to get ICTs into communities. There is a challenge over the next five years to help communities in South Africa to see what ICTs can do for them. The timing is very important. That is why Monash is to be commended for bringing key stakeholders to debate and discuss issue around the social appropriation of technology, and what can be done.