RS2: South Africa

The digital divide – where are we now?

With the ever-increasing number of Internet connected devices, it may seem like the notion of a “digital divide” has begun to close. However, in places like South Africa, the division between the digitally connected and the digitally isolated is extremely prominent in the respective urban and rural communities. Matthews states that, “only 25% of South Africans in the Eastern Cape’s rural communities use the Internet, compared with over 75% in Gauteng and Cape Town,” (para. 4) demonstrating the significant difference between the ability of rural and urban citizens to connect to the Internet. This substantial gap can have tremendous effects; the “polarization of societies and growth in income divides can be attributed to the growth of technology and a digital divide,” as observed by the World Economic Forum (para. 5). Thus, this leaves the economy of South Africa in limbo as it is “encumbered by legacy technologies, systems, models, and traditional corporate structures” (para. 5). As income level falls, so too, does the use of the Internet. Which is why Matthews believes that “it is crucial that the country prioritizes the roll-out of technological infrastructure in underserved areas,” (para. 7) in order to allow for connectivity for all. An important aspect of the digital divide is to realize its effect on children. Ironically, lower income parents are the ones who put “their children in front of screens for nearly twice as long each day as richer parents,” (para. 8) according to Matthews, but yet it is these lower income citizens that have the most difficulty getting Internet access. Furthermore, these lower income individuals are much more likely to be victims of cybercrime due to their lack of experience with using the internet. Matthews emphasizes that “[t]echnology users in developed nations with higher disposable incomes can afford more security applications and solutions,” (para. 9) marking yet another disadvantage for those caught on the wrong side of the digital divide. In his own country, Matthews remarks that “[i]n South Africa, low Internet access or penetration rates are a barrier to education, economic development and even foreign and local investment” (para. 10), which is why the UN’s attempt to classify internet usage as a human right may help emphasize future potential growth in regard to distributing internet access. Moreover, according to the World Economic Forum, “each additional 10% of Internet penetration can lead to a 1.2% increase in per capita GDP growth in emerging economies” (para. 10); thus, once developing countries began to invest in Internet distribution, one can hope that the economic gain will help close the digital divide and spark further economic advancement.

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