Hamilton Mphidi Research, Innovation and Partnerships, Tshwane University of Technology, rsa

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TitleHamilton Mphidi Research, Innovation and Partnerships, Tshwane University of Technology, rsa
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Digital divide and e-governance in South Africa


Hamilton Mphidi

Research, Innovation and Partnerships, Tshwane University of Technology, RSA


The paper presents the findings of the results of the analysis of 31 South African government departmental websites. The research was conducted with the objective to investigate the development and implementation of e-governance in South Africa as well. The papers also attempt to investigate the relationship between the digital divide and e-governance as well as the current status of digital divide in South Africa. The methods used in this study was observation and content analysis of different government departmental websites. The finding indicate that South African government departments are utilizing websites to provide certain government services to the citizens. They seem to be taking advantage of the Internet and other Web facilities to provide citizens with access to electronic information and services. These indicate that the South African government has taken steps to address the digital divide. In order to improve efforts, the paper recommends that Government need to provide more training to the ordinary citizens on how to use these ICTs facilities to access e-governance service. They also need address the issue of human capital by ensuring that competent staff are appointed to develop and maintain e-governance service. They must engage with the industry in order to improve telecoms infrastructure. They also need to assist its citizens with access to affordable internet services so that these people should be able to use more of e-governance services. And they also need to allocate more funding on e-governance projects. These projects will require a lot of funds.

1. Introduction

The disparity in access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTS) which may result from differences in class, race, age, culture, geography or other factors can affectively deprive certain citizens to participate in the global economy (Kroukamp, 2005). This disparity is known as the digital divide. There is need governments around the world to bridge the digital divide. Using the Internet to capture and provide access to appropriate and relevant digital information produced by governments could also contribute towards bridging the digital divide (Chisenga,2004).

The idea of e-governance has changed the way in which governments communicate with one another and with their citizens (Kroukamp, 2005). In the past communication used to be via public meetings, printed media, radio and television. Today communication is also done via the modern information and communication technologies e.g the Internet and satelite (Kroukamp, 2005). E-governance involves new styles of leadership, new ways of debating and deciding policy and investment, new ways of accessing education, new ways of listening to citizens and new ways of organising and delivering information and services (Tlagadi, 2007).

According to Chisenga (2004) government in Africa are the major producers of public information and could therefore contribute to bridging the digital divide by making information available to their citizens via the Internet. Governments in developed and developing countries are making increasing use of electronic to interact and communicate with another and with their citizens to deliver more effective services (Kroukamp, 2005; Mnjama & Wamukoya, 2007).

Internet is changing the way people live today. This implies that more and more people will rely on the Internet for information. Therefore if government has to reach out to this Internet population, they have to put their information and activities on the Internet via the websites.

Digital divide is defined as by Cullen (2003: 247) as the metaphor use to describe the perceived disadvantage of those who either are unable or do not choose to make use of ICT in their daily life. The Digital Divide Network (2004) defines the concept as the gap between those who have access to communication tools, such as the Internet and those who cannot.

The American Library Association (ALA), Office for Information Technology Policy (2000) defines the digital divide as disparities based on economic, status, gender, race, physical abilities and geographic location between those who have or do not have access to information, the Internet and other information technologies and services. Mariscal (2005:410) defines the concept as the gap between individuals, households, business and geographic arrears at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information technologies and to the use of such technologies for a wide variety of activities.

E-government refers to the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, operations, service delivery and accountability of government (The World Bank, 2006 as cited in Singh & Sahu, 2008; Kumar & Best, 2006; Kroukamp, 2005; Saxena, 2005; Turban et al, 2004). E-governance has evolved an information-age model of governance that seeks to realize processes and structures for harnessing the potentialities of information and communication technologies (ICTs) (Saxena, 2005).

For the purpose of this paper e-governance will be defined as public sector’s use of information and communication technologies with the aim of improving information and service delivery, encouraging citizen participation in the decision-making process and making government more accountable, transparent and effective

The purpose of this paper is to provide a critical analysis on how South African government is engaged in e-governance in order to improve operations and service delivery in the public sector. This will be dome by evaluating and analyzing different websites of South African government departments.

2. South Africa and the digital divide

Just like many other countries, South Africa is also affected by the digital divide. In 1994 the new South Africa was born and great optimism and hope characterized the nation. This section will provide current state of the digital divide in South Africa. In order to achieve that it will address the following: current overview of South Africa, Internet usage, factors contributing to the digital divide, and attempts to bridge the digital divide in South Africa. Many people anticipated the new policies and firm measures of redness would contribute to the creation of a more equitable and fair society that would enable South Africa to become a player in the global economy (Czerniewicz, 2004). What makes South Africa interesting in terms of the digital divide is the country’s multi ethnic and multi-lingual profile. The cultural background of the people reflects the different mother tongues and language use of students (Guðmundsdóttir, 2005).

South Africa is the fourth largest country in the Commonwealth and has the sixth largest population. With fifty per cent of its population in urban areas and has a highest rate of urbanization than most Sub-Saharan countries (Akinsola; Herselman & Jacobs, 2005).

According to Trusler (2003) South Africa has to deal with a number of challenges before they can begin with any initiatives for bridging the digital divide. They challenges issues are as follows Trusler (2003):

  • A high level of inequality;

  • A weak ICT infrastructure, particularly in rural areas;

  • A lack of ICT readiness in government

  • More pressing demands in the public service that makes ICT development a lower priority in budget terms.

ICT indicators are used to measure how widely diffused and accessible (real access, profiled by proximity, language and cost) are ICTs across all regions and sectors of society. It further measures how ICT’s are being used by individuals, households, communities, government, the business sector and civil society to improve their livelihoods or operations (Lewis, 2007; SADoC, 2006). See Table 1.

Table 1: South Africa-ICT indicators




47, 390, 900


USD 200.5 billion

GDP per capita

USD 4,230

GINI co-efficient


Main (fixed) telephone lines


Teledensity or Telephone subscribers (fixed)


No. of fixed line operators


Mobile telephone subscribers


Teledensity (mobile)


No. of mobile operators


Internet subscribers (estimated)


Broadband internet subscribers


No. of personal computers


No. of internet service providers


No. of television sets


No of televisions stations


No. of radio stations


Sources: CIA (2007); ITU (2007); Lewis (2007); Telkom (2007); UNDP (2007); GCIS (2007); SADoC (2006); StatsSA (2007).

South African’s telephone industry has been historically separated into fixed line and mobile cellular. The mobile telephone market in South Africa is substantially larger than fixed line services. See Table 2.1. Fixed line service providers are Telkom and Neo Tel, the later is entering market after been receiving its license in December 2005 (iAfrica, 2007; Lewis, 2007; ITU, 2007). Vodacom, MTN and Cell C are currently the only mobile communications service providers in South Africa (GCIS, 2007; Lewis, 2007).

The UN Development Programme (INDP) currently ranks South Africa a lowly 121st out of 177 countries, with a GINI co-efficient of 57.8, on its Human Development Index (UNDP, 2006). This represents a decline from 94th out of 162 countries in 2001, suggesting the considerable challenges facing in improving the quality of life of its citizens (Lewis, 2007).

Prior to 1990, ICT services in South Africa were the sole responsibility of the state. Beginning with broadcasting, which is commissioned to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). South Africa has probably the slowest fixed telecommunications, where the partially-privatised incumbent, Telkom have a monopoly. Mobile telecommunications has seen rather more progress two mobile operators licensed in 1993 and a third in 2001 (Lewis, 2007).

3. The advantages of E-governance

There are many reasons and benefits of e-governance (Chisenga, 2004). The greatest advantage of e-governance and its chief benefit to the society lies in its efficiency. Table 2 provides the advantages for e-governance.

Table 2: Advantages of e-governance


Brief explanation

Source (s)

Cost effectiveness

Reduce cost in rendering services

Chisenga, 2004 Pardo, 2000; Heeks, 2001; Kumar & Best, 2006; Kroukamp, 2005;Norris, 2001; Singh & Sahu, 2008

Time saving

Reducing delays in delivery of services

Pardo, 2000; Heeks,2001; Kumar & Best, 2006; Norris, 2001

Improve communication

communication between governments and citizens

Mokhele & De Beer

Improve operations and services

Improving quality of service delivery

Kumar & Best, 2006; Singh & Sahu, 2008

expand access

Citizens access to Public Sector Information

Chisenga,2004 Pardo, 2000; Heeks, 2001; Kumar & Best, 2006; Kroukamp, 2005; Norris, 2001

Reinforce innovation

Increase transparency and Public accountability

Offers strong bonds between public and servants based on transparency and accountability

Pardo, 2000; Heeks, 2001; Kumar & Best, 2006;Kroukamp, 2005; Norris, 2001; Seifert & Bonham, 2003; Schware, 2000; Singh & Sahu, 2008

Increase efficiency

e-governance that produce more output at the same total cost in less time

Kumar & Best, 2006; Kroukamp,2005; Tlagadi, 2007

Increase effectiveness

Governance that works better: producing the same outputs at the same total cost in the same time, but to a higher quality standard.

Kumar & Best, 2006; Tlagadi (2007)

E-governance, if implemented properly it can bring all the benefits as indicated in Table 2.

4. Challenges of e-governance

Introducing e-governance can pose huge challenges to many governments. Difficulties can arise in the development, implementation and updating of e-government sites (Kroukamp, 2005; Tlagadi, 2007). According to Van Themaat (2004) the issue of e-government in South Africa is part of the country historical and social context and e-government initiatives in the country therefore have to deal with number of challenges

More serious challenges that can emanate from e-governance are indicated as follows:

4.1. Privacy:

Many e-government systems collect, store and use the personal details of those who use their services or visits websites. That can pose a threat to individual privacy (Kroukamp, 2005)

4.2. Security

Governments will need to protect their information and systems from breaches of computer security that threaten not only the integrity and availability of services but also the confidence of users and the general public in the system (Kroukamp,2005).
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