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10GB of free data will be nice, but let’s also sort out bucket ...

Ideas

10GB of free data will be nice, but let’s also sort out bucket toilets

The UN says data has become a fundamental human right, but there are many other things needed for human dignity

Editor: TimesLIVE
Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says government will provide 10GB of free data to every South African household.
CONNECTED Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says government will provide 10GB of free data to every South African household.
Image: Freddy Mavunda

In the noise that often passes as debate on the state of the nation address, what is important often makes way for what is interesting. This is part of what holds us back.

It was interesting how communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni was jeered as she pretended to address issues related to how she got entangled in state capture. Booed and heckled, she tried to tell us that she would cooperate with whatever investigation the president unleashes and that there was no specific finding against her (whatever she meant). 

But the thing that was important about her speech was her announcement that every family will soon get 10GB of free data from the government every month. I don’t want to harp on when “soon” according to her is. Her specific words were “at some point” which, I suppose, usurps all the hope the announcement induced. 

But the truth is that many countries are forging ahead with modernisation of their economies. They make no secret of their reliance on innovation to catapult their economies to the top. For them, 5G is yesterday’s news. For us, well, the future. And we are the most industrialised on the African continent. 

In a week like this one, when President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses us about our future and accounts for progress (or lack thereof) during his tenure, we must obsess about what he intends to do and what constitutes pie in the sky. We must all analyse his every word and hold his administration accountable. 

Ramaphosa did well, in his response to the debate this week, not to further degenerate our discourse by entertaining insults. We must learn from those who say we must raise our arguments and not our decibels. But our MPs are special people. And we, the masses, did no better. We couldn’t get our heads around the idea of the Joneses (Mr and Mrs Minnie Dlamini) divorcing. If the Joneses can’t keep it together, what must happen to mere mortals, the nation sighed (for two days at the top of tweeter trends).

Her specific words were ‘at some point’ which, I suppose, usurps all the hope the announcement induced. 

In the same week, Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, appeared in court over kiss the boer. The substance of the issue made way for how the inimitable leader demonstrated the “kiss” with an “Mcwaaa!”

Laughter, I suppose, is medicine for a bastardised and brutalised people, a people still reeling from a horrible history of institutionalised segregation. A history that, if Hoërskool Jan Viljoen is anything to go by, is refusing to die. A history that will, of course, not die for as long as only some of our children go to former Model C schools and the rest remain in the belly of Stjwetla informal settlement in the heart of Alexandra in Johannesburg, with no hope of escaping the poverty that gnaws away at their dignity with each passing day. 

The difficulty with explaining “indignity” is the monotony with which it is said and used. This robs it of its meaning and force. And so poor people simply become statistics. Numbers. 

Please indulge me further. Last weekend, Senzo Mchunu, the new minister of water and sanitation, addressed the SA National Editors Forum council meeting at which he talked about the country’s water infrastructure that is coming apart, leading to uncontrollable leaks. But it was his comment that the situation is even worse with sanitation because there remain many South Africans to whom flushing toilets are a rumour (my emphasis). When nature calls in the middle of the night, they must get out of their shack and be accompanied (given crime rates) to wherever shared buckets are located. In a country like ours, with a budget the other side of a trillion rand, at a time we want to think about the post-5G era, some live like animals. And so, when our president, his esteemed ministers, leaders of opposition parties (including the ones without matric), fashion debate about how to take our country forward, they’re collectively incapable, or not even inclined, to think how hollow the president’s statements about “leaving no one behind” sounds in the face of the ignominy that comes with the use of these buckets.

In a country like ours, with a budget the other side of a trillion rands, at a time we want to think about the post-5G era, some live like animals.

To the extent that we get our healing from laughing about Malema’s “Mcwaa” as he kisses the boer, perhaps let’s laugh. But let us not fail to respect ourselves, to prioritise our future and to think of the millions of people trapped in dehumanising poverty in Stjwetla in Alex, Khayelitsha and villages across the vast expanse that is our land.

This is why when someone like Ntshavheni says each household will get 10GB every month, I feel that while it doesn’t solve everything, it definitely will move the needle. Data, the UN has told us, has become a fundamental human need much like accessing water and energy. 

How else would the poor overcome their current cognitive limitations without access to enablements like technology and information in this data-rich knowledge society? And, of course, apartheid spatial planning has ensured that the poor majority are kept in the periphery of economic activity, thus perpetuating their lack.

It’s not through the noise we make in what ought to be debates about our future that we will undo this. Our success is not to be found in the stuff that is interesting and will trend on social media, but the hard grind of opening access not just to the very important and overdue 10GB, but access to economic opportunities too.

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