Students who have returned to their rural Eastern Cape homes can now access online courses after the University of the Western Cape – forced to close during the lockdown – asked an internet service provider to give them free data for that purpose.
Zenzeleni, a community-owned internet provider, serves remote areas such as Mankosi and Zithulele – which includes 70 smaller communities – in the Eastern Cape.
Professor Shaun Pather, chair of information systems at UWC, said: “We were aware that students from all higher education institutes would be returning to their rural homes during the lockdown – it only made sense that we had to support them. So we asked the Zenzeleni team to extend the zero-rating to all university and technical vocational education and training (TVET) sites.”
Professor Pather said data was an essential need, giving people access to health and educational resources.
“In this time of self-isolation and lockdown, people need to stay connected with family, work and their communities. They also need access to information – to stay updated, and get the latest in terms of health updates, and how to stay safe. We’re doing what we can to help.”
Students show their student cards to buy data vouchers at local shops. They’re then able to access the online resources from their phones or home computers by using Zenzeleni’s Community Notice Board function.
Since 2012, Zenzeleni has granted Mankosi and Zithulele access to unlimited data for as little as R25 for 32 days, but since April 2, access to health and education resources has been free for all users through the Community Notice Board.
Zenzeleni project manager Soledad Luca de Tena said: “Our actions now will determine the outcome of COVID-19 for all of us. Together, we can beat this virus – and we’re just helping people do that.”