Start main page content

Digital Infrastructure: The role of public-private partnerships in mitigating the digital divide

- Gracelin Baskaran

Newlands is a beautiful, lush suburb of Cape Town. It sits at the foot of Table Mountain and boasts
both the stunning Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and Newlands Forest. The last South
African census found that 83 percent of residents have internet access. A twenty-six minute drive
from there sits Enkanini, an informal settlement in the township of Khayelitsha. Here, just 23 percent
of residents reported having internet access. These examples are not isolated – the areas with the
lowest reported internet access near Cape town were townships such as Nyanga, Khayelitsha,
Gugulethu, and Philippi, with less than 25 percent of residents having access to internet. In contrast,
upmarket areas such as Rondebosch, Rosebank and Blouberg Rise were amongst the most
connected, with over 80 percent of residents having internet access. This is the “digital divide.” The
term refers to the gaps in information and communication technology (ICT), that threatens those
who lack access.

The reality is that the digital divide, like other infrastructure gaps, is deeply refl ective of the systematic
and embedded nature of inequality in South Africa. The digital divide is an infrastructure gap that
deepens the inequality between townships and suburbs in several key ways: (i) human capital
development, by limiting education and training opportunities; (ii) income and social mobility, by
suppressing growth of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); (iii) competition, research
shows that in South Africa, the introduction of high speed high internet was associated with a
signifi cant increase in net fi rm entry; and (iv) employment, as high speed internet access increases
fi rm entry, productivity and exports, and has been show to increase employment, particularly in
higher-skill occupations (Hjort and Poulsen 2019).

Read the full paper here: Digital Infrastructure