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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Taking the net to South Africa's poor
South African user on the internet
New generation eager to explore the web
Internet cafes in South Africa are providing many with their first taste of the web and e-mail. BBC News Online looks at the experience of setting up a cafe in South Africa's second biggest township.

Two months ago, Mkululi Bolo turned his back on more than a decade in journalism in order to set up an internet cafe in the South African township of Mdantsane where he was born and grew up.

He did not decide on a career change for the money, but to try to bring the web to residents in disadvantaged areas.

"It's not going to make you rich," Mkululi Bolo told the BBC programme Go Digital.

"I am just someone who wants to promote the use of the internet, to encourage the people of Mdantsane to be part of the information age."

Poor net access

For many people in developing countries, internet cafes provide their first experience of the power of the web and e-mail.


I am trying to create opportunities for other people

Mkululi Bolo, internet cafe owner
Only one in 15 South Africans had internet access by the end of 2001, according to a recent report by World Wide Worx, one of the country's technology research organisations.

This compares with one in every two users in America, Canada, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.

And there seem few signs for optimism. In 2001, the total number of South Africans online was 2.89 million. This figure is set to grow in the coming year, but only slightly.

The report suggests that by the end of 2002, one in 14 South Africans will have net access.

Connect to the world

Mr Bolo sees his Cyber Screenz cafe as a small step in the right direction.

Mkululi Bolo, internet cafe owner
Bolo: Experienced journalist
"There are very few people in the township who have computers," he said.

"The reason we've done this is to connect the people in the township where I grew up to the rest of the world," he said. "I am trying to create opportunities for other people."

The internet cafe is based in a shopping centre which is guarded 24 hours a day. At the moment, they only have three computers, one of which acts as a server connected to the internet.

Perhaps most importantly, going online is cheap.

"We're not making a lot of money but it is enough to cover our rent so far," said Mr Bolo. "People say this is the cheapest place to come and use a computer."

As well as using the cafe to browse the internet and send e-mails, some use it to find a better job.

"I assist them with job applications," said Mr Bolo. "We do their CV, we open an e-mail account for them, and then they send their CVs to employment agencies or direct to a company."

Experts say places like internet cafes or online community centres are only a small part of the answer to bring the web to poor South Africans.

They say that connecting more schools is crucial to the long-term growth of the internet in South Africa.

See also:

20 Apr 00 | Africa
29 Jan 00 | Business
10 Sep 99 | Africa
30 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
23 Jun 99 | Science/Nature
02 Jul 01 | Africa
28 Aug 01 | Africa
26 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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