with professionally presented rather than hand-written papers and committee minutes are now committed to print. Kgautswane has had a crash course in the joys of computing.
Eyes on a Prize
Such a facility would scarcely raise an eyebrow in developed countries, but it so impressed the Stockholm Challenge judges, which included Government Technology Editor Wayne Hanson, that they decided to make this joint winner in its "Equal Access" category, alongside another South African entry, the Manguzi Wireless Internet project.
West says the judges were impressed with the determination of the project coordinators to succeed against all the odds -- no power, telephones, funds or trained personnel. The voltage from the generator fluctuates wildly, making this a tricky undertaking for any supplier: "There are few computer companies willing to take on these kinds of risks," says West.
Once the telephone lines reach Kgautswane over the next few years, the center will be able to offer an Internet connection and so broaden the universe of opportunities. There is a rudimentary radio telephone link in Kgautswane, but its poor quality does not permit Internet access. Once the center has a single landline, it will be able to erect a satellite broadcast Internet connection, with outgoing requests for Internet information transmitted by landline and information returned by satellite broadcast, the same method used by the Manguzi Wireless Internet project.
West is the driving force behind the creation and maintenance of AfricaEducation.org, a large and growing resource for African students and educators intended to help them bridge the educational divide between Africa and developed countries. This facility will be available to Kgautswane residents once the telephone lines reach here.
Another resource operated by West and the Centre for Lifelong Learning is the African Digital Library which, through a tie-up with NetLibrary.com, offers African students access to a digital library of some 7,700 books. West managed to put this site together with $250,000 in corporate sponsorships, and says additional funds are needed to expand the library, which operates much like a corporeal one: Only one person can access a title online at a time and must "return" it before anyone else can read it. The online version has the advantage of a full text search capability. The purpose is not to provide students with a casual online read, but to facilitate research, says West.
Similar projects are under way in three other towns in South Africa: Pietersburg, in the north, East London on the eastern seaboard, and Nkomazi, toward the Mozambican border. These towns have the advantage of telephone links, making it possible to offer computer services along with a business center and telephones. Telephone penetration rates in South Africa, at about 15 percent, are high by African standards -- yet most people still rely on public telephones. This need has given rise to telephone shops, where banks of phones are available for public use. West says the telephone shop is a proven business concept in South Africa, which he is now expanding into a business and computer center.
"This has tremendous possibilities throughout Africa. I think we have shown how it is possible to bring computers to the most remote corners of the continent and raise levels of computer literacy," says West.