The Siyakhula Living Lab: A Holistic Approach to Rural Development through ICT in Rural South Africa

The Siyakhula Living Lab: A Holistic Approach to Rural Development through ICT in Rural South Africa

Caroline Pade Khane (Rhodes University, South Africa), Ingrid Siebörger (Rhodes University, South Africa), Hannah Thinyane (Rhodes University, South Africa) and Lorenzo Dalvit (Rhodes University, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0882-5.ch311
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Rural development and poverty alleviation are a priority for development in South Africa. Information and knowledge are key strategic resources for social and economic development, as they empower rural communities with the ability to expand their choices through knowing what works best in their communities. Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) act as tools which enable existing rural development activities. The Siyakhula living lab (SLL) aims to develop and field-test a distributed, multifunctional community communication platform, using localization through innovation, to deploy in marginalized communities in South Africa. The project exists as research collaboration between the Telkom Centres of Excellence at the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University. Its current pilot operates in the Mbashe municipal area, which is a deep rural area located along the wild coast of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. The Dwesa-Cweba Nature Reserve acts as a chief asset in the community, which contributes to tourism development. However, the community is currently not actively involved in tourism development; but potential exists in local arts, crafts, and authentic heritage tourism. Therefore, the SLL aspires to empower the community with appropriate communication technology skills to actively support tourism development and other complementary development activities, such as, education. The lessons learned and applied in the project’s current pilot stage identify techniques and approaches that aim to promote the effectiveness and sustainability of the ICT project in a rural context. These approaches and techniques are viewed and described from social-cultural, institutional, economic, and technological perspectives.
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ICTs can generally be defined as tools that aid in communication between people through electronic means of capturing, processing, storing, and communicating information (Gerster and Zimmermann, 2003; Heeks, 1999). The widespread enthusiasm associated with the use of ICTs in rural development has consequently brought about the misconception in development communities that ICTs are the panacea for all rural development challenges (McNamara, 2003; UN ICT Task Force, 2003). In this sense, the focus has been on increasing the amount of ICTs (specifically infrastructure) in rural areas, without really considering the needs of rural communities, and their capabilities to harness and sustain these technologies. In addressing this misconception, it is important to understand that ICTs are tools in rural development, and not necessarily the only solution to combating the challenges of poverty (Gerster & Zimmermann, 2003; Mansell & Wehn, 1998; McNamara, 2003). They are meant to complement ongoing development projects and investments; hence ICTs do not create change, but instead enable change. The key to understanding the potential of ICTs is to begin an analysis, not considering the absence or presence of ICTs in rural areas, but instead identifying the challenges associated with persistent poverty in a given community, the most effective measures in addressing these challenges, and only then the tools necessary to proceed (McNamara, 2003). In this case, the tools may not only be ICTs, but also other resources, partnerships and development projects. Furthermore, McNamara (2003) indicates that the impact of ICTs in a rural community depend on a complex set of resource endowments, human and institutional capacities, historical legacies and enabling environments. Addressing the deeper economic, social, resource and historical challenges faced by developing countries cannot be substituted by simply providing ICTs where they are not available, but instead identifying how ICTs can act as tools in enhancing development activities with a view to addressing those challenges.

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