The second iteration of the South Africa School of Community Networks officially convened on 15th February. 

The school commenced started its 3rd in-person training on 2nd May 2022 in Mankosi, Eastern Cape bringing together seven community networks both established and yet to be established.

Those already established include Zenzeleni Networks NPC from Mankosi in Eastern Cape, Soweto Wireless User Group (SOWUG) from Soweto in Johannesburg, Mamaila Community Network from Limpopo, V-Net from Cape Town. 

Those not yet established are Seoding Community Network from Northern Cape and Amadiba from Xolobeni in the eastern cape. 

Each community network was represented by three participants with a total of 11 women and 10 men.

The National School of Community Networks being implemented in Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, forms part of the training and mentorship initiative in a larger global initiative \”supporting community-led approaches to addressing the digital divide\”, a project by the Association of Progressive Communications (of which KICTANet is a member) in partnership with Rhizomatica and with financial aid from the UK government\’s Digital Access Program. 

The school of Community networks South Africa is co-funded by the Northern Cape town department of economic development and tourism, Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the University of the Western Cape and the Republic of South Africa’s department of science and technology.

Zenzeleni NPC consists of two cooperatives; Mankosi cooperative and Zithulele cooperative. Each arm of the network is legally registered, Zenzeleni NPC as a private electronic communication network (PECN), and the two micro-organizations as cooperatives, each on their own.

 Zenzeleni NPC has a board of directors and an appointed CEO who oversees the general running of the network. This is mainly the management of the backhaul while the cooperatives choose their own directors, a process overseen by the clan authority. 

The cooperative members are involved in the daily running of the network including selling vouchers and management of the hotspot infrastructure.

The cooperatives pull their capacity from the members and from Zenzeleni NPC.  

For example, Mankosi’s head technician Masibulele Jay Siya is a director in the Mankosi cooperative. Mankosi has 37 hotspots of which 10 are battery powered. 

Zenzeleni networks are focused on not just provision of access but value-added access through services such as their Solar Lab, to enable the community to tap into the whole spectrum of connectivity towards digital literacy, access to information, access to education, improved economics and a sense of belonging in the wider global community.

The school is offering courses broken down into three parts and focused on building business skills, social development skills, technical skills and personal literacy skills:

  • Tailored course focused on community networks, implemented both online and in-person and facilitated by Zenzeleni NPC faculty. 

The course is designed to create value for the participating community networks by giving them knowledge and understanding of best practices in establishing and maintaining community networks.

  • Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP)  accredited course by Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and Human Capital Learning Solutions (HCLS), implemented both online and in person. 

The course is aimed at giving participants a theoretical and practical understanding of the telecommunications industry and is a part qualification for an NQF5 broadcast engineering qualification.

  • The mentorship program is scheduled to take place virtually from 1st June 2022 to 30th November 2022. 

The program will be implemented by both Zenzeleni NPC and course facilitators, aimed at helping participants implement the skills they have learned and create plans to either start a new community network or grow their existing network.

Since the official convening of the school, there have been 2-week in-person training in Cape Town, a 4-week online training on community networks and WISP courses, 2- week in-person WISP training in Johannesburg, 3-week online community networks course, 2-week online community networks course and practical WISP training in Mankosi, and finally a mentorship program that will run from June to November.

Participant activities in the in-person training in Cape Town include an official visit to the headman (a requirement before the start of any activity in the province).

Site visits are accompanied by technical, business and social aspects of the network, plan proposal presentations by each community network, WISP practical training, business development overview and focused capacity building on solar powered networks, which most participants have taken a keen interest in to.

“A notable community for me during the school is the Mamaila community network started by four sisters and their mother, from Limpopo. 

The project coordinator Neo Magoro is a co-founder of the Mamaila Community Network, with a background working in a bank while concurrently selling vegetables. She quit her job in the banking sector to focus on selling vegetables with her sister who had lost her job in Johannesburg. 

She then moved on to work at a telesales job in Johannesburg while pursuing a certification in information security and later on a degree in communication science. This is helping her pursue her dream to offer digital literacy to the children in her community which she feels is a prerequisite to higher education studies.”

The movement (community network) is growing and the digital divide is getting narrower. 

Provision of access is no longer the end goal but meaningful access that is aimed to add value to the socio-economic context of the community because the real success of a community network is measured by its user experience.

This is a series of our publications on Community Networks.

Ms. Catherine Kyalo is the Africa Regional Coordinator at KICTANet for the APC-LOCNET initiative. She is passionate about community welfare and enjoys yoga to rejuvenate. LinkedIn | Twitter