Traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape have called for more investment in ICT in rural areas, to help speed up the spread of knowledge about technology in the remote parts of the country.
They say without technology, the rural economy, which is mainly based on agriculture, will simply not grow to support local entrepreneurship and skills like agro-processing.
On Friday, Deputy Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams handed over computers and laptops to traditional leaders in the province as part of an initiative to inject technology skills in an area that is predominantly rural and underdeveloped. The ceremony was held at Mngqesha Great Place, outside East London.
A group of local women also received certificates in computer training and will be transferring their skills for the benefit of the local community.
Local leaders complained that despite the rapid penetration of mobile phones in rural areas, the use of technology such as computers and the internet has been slow in most remote areas of South Africa, slowing development in these areas.
They said young people often have to travel long distances to access computers and the internet.
"The greatest tool in empowering a nation is to implant knowledge to the people. We are grateful that this is being realised today in these rural areas," said Prince Zolile Burns Ncamashe.
Chief SandileTshatshu said it was expensive for young people in his village to travel long distances to town just to type and print CVs.
"It's a struggle for many of them. They use money every day just to go and print CVs, something they can do here while helping others in the process. So we are hoping things will change because these days you cannot do anything without a computer," he said.
The computers and internet connectivity, donated on Friday in partnership with Land Bank and IT Master respectively, will not only benefit traditional leaders but will allow local youth to access opportunities that are available on line.
Also present at Friday's ceremony were Deputy Minister of Police Maggie Sotyu, Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation Pam Tshwete and several traditional leaders and members of the Eastern Cape provincial government.
They all pledged their support to ensuring that disadvantaged communities reap the benefits of technological improvements and that they can afford these communications services.
Role of traditional leaders
"Traditional leaders played a role in our liberation. They continue to play a big role in our communities and we believe if we empower them - they will empower our communities," Deputy Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams said.
She said the aim of the initiative was to ensure government responds to ICT challenges that were still being experienced in many rural areas.
"Ours is to bring knowledge to the people wherever they are. We believe most of our challenges as a country are caused by lack of communication and as government we want to bridge that gap. There should be constant communication between people and we hope these computers will help us to achieve that," she said.
Deputy Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams said the Department of Communications had a role to play in ensuring that ICT was accessible and affordable in every corner of South Africa.
"It is my role as the Deputy Minister of Communications and in our partnership with the private sector to ensure that we achieve these communication goals that we are setting for ourselves."
She told SAnews that the department planned to partner with traditional leaders in rolling out ICT in rural areas across the country.
"If you are talking about traditional leaders, you are talking about the custodians of the people. As government, we have realised that they are a crucial stakeholder and if we need to do anything that is going to be effective in the services we are rendering we need to bring them on board," said Deputy Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams.
It was important that government ensure that traditional leaders used modern technology to address challenges in their traditional authorities.
"They need to move with times and as people who have the influence in their communities it is important that they don't get left behind in this communication revolution we are introducing so we see traditional leaders as very important stakeholders in what we do."
ICT contribution to GDP
With ICT contributing 6% to the country's GDP in 2012, the National Development Plan has now proposed that by 2030 South Africa should have a vibrant knowledge economy where ICT supports the development of a dynamic and connected information society.