Will rolling out free WiFi into eThekwini’s townships benefit everyone?

Last month, eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo delivered his budget speech and announced that free WiFi will be launched in different parts of the municipality by the end of June, including townships and rural areas. He said that the project would help “enhance access to research information” and “facilitate business development in those areas .” The Daily Vox spoke to a few Durbanites about the project. 

Sanele Zungu, (21), a student from Umlazi believes that the initiative could be beneficial, but it may encourage crime in the areas where it is being rolled out.

SaneleZungu [dropcap]“[/dropcap]This is a great initiative although we don’t know if the municipality will deliver. Most young people in the townships are unemployed and they need internet access to seek jobs online. Almost everything is done digitally nowadays and other people could even benefit from this; they could start their own online businesses and market themselves. There is always a downside to any positive initiative – criminals will also take advantage of people and mug them. But it would have to be within oneself to ensure safety by being responsible and street smart. If the municipality could keep their promise and deliver, this will help scores of people.”

EThekwini spokesperson, Thulani Mbatha told The Daily Vox, “The plan is to roll out the project in different townships such as KwaMashu and all other townships around the municipality. Although we don’t currently have the specific areas where we will pilot the project within those townships.” Andile Magagula (20), a student from Umlazi, feels that having free WiFi close to home will really benefit him.

Andile[dropcap]“[/dropcap]Young people need internet more than anything else. Digital life has made life easier for everyone but accessing internet from the townships is a mission. Sometimes I have to come all the way to the library in order to get connected and do my school work. And in other cases I find the library packed with other students and residents who need to search for jobs online and the internet becomes limited and useless. It would be great to have WiFi hotspots on every corner of the township so that we can all get unlimited connection and do our work.”

Mbatha said, “Obviously the research has been done and we are targeting the areas where there is youth concentration and areas around universities.” Since the focus is on the youth, schoolchildren will likely be using the WiFi too. We asked Zenhlanhla Cibane (33), an educator from Adams how she thinks free WiFi will affect the classroom.

Zenhlanhla [dropcap]“[/dropcap]This will cause both parents and teachers a headache. Keeping learners in class is hard as it is with their smartphones, some even miss important classes because of social media and our school doesn’t even have a hotspot. Having free unlimited WiFi access will mean that some learners don’t even make it to school. This will expose them to crime and criminal activities, they will become easy targets. It would have been a great initiative if people were going to be responsible and utilise it for a good cause. Internet is similar to drugs, it is addictive and needs to be used wisely and responsibly, and the question would be whether we can trust our children to be responsible enough.”

Inanda waitress Nokthula Nkandi (24), feels that she will not benefit from the rollout of WiFi in her township.

nokthula nandi [dropcap]“[/dropcap]I am as good as unemployed and would like a better job, and having free internet won’t guarantee that I will get a better job. There is nothing that I would appreciate as much as being given an opportunity to learn something, even if it’s enrolling for a short course in sewing but I have no money. I don’t need the internet to be able to do that but I need financial support. Having free internet access would be great to some, but it won’t benefit us all. People will continue to live in poverty and crime will keep on escalating because criminals are smart too; they know who to target and when.”

While Cebolenkosi Dlamini (19), a student from KwaMashu thinks that the R30 million that has been set aside for the project this year could go to more pressing causes.

cebolenkosi[dropcap]“[/dropcap]Instead of contributing to crime by launching free WiFi, the municipality should consider building houses for the needy. I don’t see the point of wasting millions of money on an initiative that will backfire. As it is the city is currently run by the vagrants and the municipality is failing to address that issue. We are not safe both in our townships and in the city centre, how much more now that there will be free WiFi at every corner? If the municipality is really dedicated to helping the residents of eThekwini, specifically the youth, it should consider splurging money on useful courses such as education programmes.”

Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Featured image via Flickr