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Digital Inclusion and Accessibility: South African Context

By Anita Dywaba posted Mon August 02, 2021 11:48 PM


The textbook definition of digital inclusion is the ability of all individuals and groups to access information and communication technologies. However, I believe that this definition should extend past the “access” criteria. Digital inclusion also speaks to the digital skills of individuals and the type of internet access they have, as these impact their use of digital media. This means that just having access to a mobile device alone is not sufficient; things such as the type of internet connection and the level of digital skills are important determinants of one's participation in digital media. In countries like South Africa, where I am from, a large percentage of the population is not proficient in English, which prohibits them from fully participating in digital media.

Digital inclusion is of particular importance and relevance now during the COVID-19 pandemic. In many countries, people have to register online or have access to a mobile device to register for a COVID-19 vaccine jab. We now see how things such as the Grey Divide and socio-economic factors threaten universal access to the COVID-19 vaccine. The educational systems have also been severely impacted by the pandemic, as many schools had
to opt for remote learning. Adapting to this new learning system was particularly difficult for schools where learners are predominantly from socio-economically disadvantaged households. On the contrary, schools and learners from privileged households could swiftly adapt to remote learning with ease, further exacerbating pre-existing inequalities.

Both these instances should be driving factors for the acceleration of digital inclusion, especially for the Global South. Digital exclusion is beginning to sound more and more like human rights exclusion. In light of all this, we as young people can do more to accelerate digital inclusion. It starts with understanding and acknowledging the problem and the complexities around inequality as a whole. For example, in South Africa, the spatial dispensation of the black and colored communities was carefully mapped out to exclude these communities from the digital economy by the Apartheid government through the Group Areas Act.
Therefore, understanding digital exclusion in the South African context would first require a historical understanding of South Africa's socio-political landscape and identity politics. We should do our best to understand all these complexities. As future policymakers and experts, we should advocate for better telecommunication infrastructures and the inclusion of communities that have been left out.