There provision of free access to the internet in the Eastern Cape has been cut by province’s department of sport, recreation, arts and culture as well as the National Library of South Africa.
The department claims the tender for internet provision is still in progress and will only be completed end June.
In the mean time, learners and students who depend on free internet provided by public libraries find themselves without access to information.
Onica Makwakwa of the Alliance for Affordable Internet World Wide Web Foundation once said access to the internet was a basic human right.
Makwakwa was part of a panel discussion on closing the digital divide at the World Economic Forum in Durban last year.
“Access to internet is a basic human right, the same as access to water and electricity. We need real policies around competition to drive prices down,” she said, adding that some young people in Africa would spend up to 80% of their income on staying connected.
People who depend on free internet access in public libraries in the Eastern Cape say they have been struggling since last year August when the service stopped.
The National Library of South Africa and the Eastern Cape department of sport, recreation, arts and culture used to pay for the service.
One of the department’s strategic objectives is the provision of a free, equitable and accessible library and information service,
Many library users, especially high school learners, say they cannot afford the high costs of data and the fees charged by internet cafes.
Abongiwe Sayman, a matric learner in Motherwell, said: “I used to be the best in my grade when the free internet service was available at the library. I am now struggling with my work. I am afraid I will fail my final examination.”
Noluthando Thondlana, who frequents the Uitenhage library, said in the past she used the library computers and the free internet access.
“Internet cafes charge anything between R15 to R20 an hour,” she said. As she does not have a laptop she is also charged for the time she spends typing up her assignment on the cafe’s computer even if she isn’t using the internet. Thondlana is trying to complete a diploma in Transport Management by correspondence.
Sabawu Mlanjeni from Motherwell is studying for a degree in Public Management through a Cape Town university. He said the librarians had been helpful and showed him how to do new things on the internet. “I wish the municipality would bring back the service again.”
The municipality does offer free internet through Always On, but only 100BM per day and only on a personal laptop or mobile phone.
“Many people don’t have computers, and most of the work needs a computer not a cellphone. And the data bundles get quickly used up,” said Mlanjeni.
Spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture Andile Nduna said: “The department is in the process of finalising the contract for a new tender to supply free internet to all the province’s  libraries. This should be done by the beginning of June this year.”
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