Cognisant of the fact that COVID-19 has amplified the need to ensure speeding up the process of connecting the unconnected, Honourable Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Postal and Courier Services, today commissioned the Ruwa Community Information Centre in Mashonaland East Province.
“Ladies and gentlemen, today is a special day, a day where we are witnessing the commissioning of a Community Information Centre after a long break due to the COVID-19 Pandemic induced lockdown and other measures meant to mitigate the spread of this deadly virus. We are indeed living in unprecedented times, a time where Internet connectivity has become more of a basic need than a luxury.
“COVID-19 has amplified the need to ensure that we speed up the process of connecting the unconnected. Community Information Centres provide a multi-sectoral environment that cuts across various industries like agriculture, the health care industry, and the mining sector, among many others. The centres also help to address social issues faced by both rural and peri-urban families, especially the youth and women in these societies,” Minister Muswere said.
Access to digital technologies provides opportunities for people to explore and imagine possible scenarios in any industry, such as agriculture, mining or commerce. Community Information Centres offer a chance for creative and innovative minds to break down barriers and create solutions that can be used in their own communities to solve the various socio-economic problems the country may face from time to time.
The ICT ministry continues to play an important role in the digitalisation agenda. In line with the aspirations of National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1), the minister pledged to ensure equitable access to digital technologies for all citizens, including those living in rural and peri-urban areas.
He alluded to the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill that is now very close to becoming law after it went through parliament last week and called on stakeholders to improve digital literacy skills, since these are key to managing online identities and privacy, thereby avoiding the dangers posed by cyberspace.
Speaking on the same occasion, Dr Gift Machengete, the Director-General of the Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) said community information centres are meant to alleviate the challenge of affordability and access to the Internet.
“Despite the huge Internet demand, having access to the Internet is still a huge challenge for most Zimbabwean communities and as such, they are left behind on the digital highway. In the same vein, getting online is also still a challenge due to affordability. Gladly, we have a solution to these two issues in the name of Community Information Centres as they make the Internet more accessible and more affordable. It is in that regard that I feel proud to be associated with this site whose launch we have just witnessed and indeed, it is also in that regard, that I feel greatly honoured to be addressing you here today,” Dr Machengete said.
Community Information Centres are offering free Internet access to patrons until 31 December 2021. Dr Machengete said while Internet Surfing Cubicles may not be enough to accommodate everyone, patrons are free to bring their own devices and access the WIFI.
To enhance Internet access, POTRAZ in collaboration with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary education has also embarked on a project to connect 1500 schools by year-end. This is expected to boost e-learning, which has now become the preferred mode of education due to COVID – 19.
Related to this project, the Authority has paid bandwidth for 570 schools nationwide that had already been connected. This was after the realisation that connected schools were not benefiting from the Internet as they could not afford the bandwidth costs. To date, 473 schools have been connected in the past two weeks alone and 97 are still outstanding.
“Of concern, however, is that some of the outstanding schools cannot be immediately connected as their equipment such as Satellite dishes, modems and copper cables were either stolen or vandalised.
“In the same bid to improve Internet access and use, the Authority has also embarked on a project to connect 1500 Health Care Centres across the country. The Ministry of Health and Childcare has already furnished POTRAZ with a list of over 1300 health care centres to be connected and the remaining sites are awaited. Connectivity of Health Care Centres will certainly go a long way in improving efficiency at hospitals and clinics and bringing convenience to patients through telemedicine and other e-health applications.”