Project Isizwe is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2013. Its goal is to connect low-income communities across South Africa at the lowest possible cost in public spaces, mainly for the purpose of education. Since its inception, Project Isizwe has connected around 3 million South Africans to free, public Wi-Fi, and provided access to information and opportunities. Through the project’s efforts, individuals have obtained more than 200 jobs and benefited from 11,000 online digital literacy programs.
Project Isizwe is based in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, which has a population of more than 2.1 million. South Africa is one of the most expensive countries in Africa in terms of price per 1 gigabyte (GB) of data. Based on the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s Affordability Report 2016, an affordable mobile Internet connection (priced at about 1.5 percent of average monthly income) costs between 7 and 15 percent of the income of almost half of the population in South Africa. For lower income users, it costs around 20 percent of their income to afford 1 GB of data. Recently, the municipality of the City of Tshwane began subsidizing the Internet. In Pretoria alone, there are more than 700 public Internet access zones, including schools, clinics, and libraries, due to a collaborative effort between the City of Tshwane and Project Isizwe.
|Pretoria, South Africa|
|53,491,333||Fixed broadband subscriptions (%)
|Population density (people per sq.km)
|43.81||Mobile cellular subscriptions (%)
|Median household income
|$5217||Individuals using the Internet (%)
(Mean years of schooling)
|Individuals using the Internet by Gender (%) (ITU, 2016)||N/A|
Project Isizwe aims to bring free Wi-Fi within walking distance to every South African. The daily data limit is 500 megabytes (MB) per day per device. They partner with municipalities to plan, install, and launch free Wi-Fi for low-income communities, using existing infrastructure, and work with local companies who provide the necessary labor and resources. Additionally, they are able to purchase bandwidth at discounted rates, which drives down costs to less than 1 rand ($0.072) per day. This discount is consequential as it makes it affordable for the government to subsidize the free Wi-Fi. Furthermore, Project Isizwe also partnered with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to offer educational programs such as chess and online courses to the community. Notably, they offer free online digital literacy programs on their network. They are also working on a business model that would allow them to sustain their services.
Due to high demand on the part of the community of Pretoria, Project Isizwe has expanded to 1,050 hotspots. In order to increase the effectiveness of Wi-Fi usage by the public, hotspots were deployed strategically. They placed hotspots at calculated locations (such as parks, next to schools, in libraries, hospitals, and police stations) where the public can easily gather. While Internet access is free, content is restricted. They do not allow people to stream violent programs on the network or to view pornographic images or videos, for instance.
500 MB per day per device
|Training provided||Free online digital literacy programs available on their network|
|Year of connectivity||2013||Cost to users||Free
|Geography||Rural – 34 miles from Johannesburg||Total cost of program||Fixed: $15.696 million
Operational: $720 per user per day
|User profile||3 million users
11,000 have completed digital literacy training
222 users have found employment
In 2013, Project Isizwe started off with 35 free Wi-Fi hotspots and allotted 250 MBs for each device per day. As of late 2017, they have deployed 1,050 free Wi-Fi hotspots around South Africa, and allow 500 MBs of data usage per day per device. Currently they have 3 million unique users, which include 600,000 unique users per month and 330,000 people who log onto the Internet per day. They have also partnered with Facebook to deploy even more hotspots.
In addition to providing users with free Wi-Fi, Project Isizwe has developed a content portal that focuses on education, skills development, and employment. It allows local communities to access information, education, and jobs. Through this content, 11,000 citizens completed online digital literacy trainings, and around 222 users found a job. The project is also working with local NGOs with a focus on outreach programs to develop online tools for learning such as chess tournaments or programs cultivating awareness about cyber bullying. They also partnered with international technology companies like Mozilla to create an online platform to empower low-income women to pursue resources and opportunities for health and finance.
Equipment – The equipment is somewhat vulnerable, and susceptible to getting stolen or struck by lightening. As the number of hotspots increases, it becomes more challenging to maintain the existing equipment or replace it when taken or damaged due to limited financial and human resources.
Limited capacity and resources – As an NGO, the project is challenged by the task of maintaining such a complex and rapidly expanding network. As the project becomes more successful in terms of its range and impact, it becomes harder to keep up with the increasing technical, human, and financial needs this success brings.
Change in political leadership – Changes to the political leadership affects the ongoing efforts toward connectivity. Some state policies limit new designs of digital equipment, and changes in information technology (IT) policies to address the new needs that digital innovation brings are often seen as unnecessary by the South African authorities. This instability and inconsistency among political authorities make it harder for the NGO to make decisions or plan for their sustainable development in the long-term.
Lack of awareness about connectivity – There are many challenges to changing the perception that Internet access is not a luxury but a necessity, and that it should be seen as public good. People believe that there are more pressing issues than connectivity in South Africa, such as genocide, the economy, and corruption. There are also very limited platforms to share the message of Internet access and its social necessity in order to bring awareness to public.
NGOs – The team cited effective public-private partnerships as a major contribution to the success of Project Isizwe. While they partnered with municipalities to help subsidize the cost of the network, they work with local NGOs to improve outreach for their programs. They also work with international companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Mozilla to provide infrastructure and technical support.
Government – Their experience suggests that the role of the government can expand beyond merely a financial one. Government partnership is equally important in building awareness about the significance of connectivity among stakeholders in these initiatives. The lack of this awareness may slow or hinder the processes that aim to build, expand, and sustain connectivity projects.