Inside Government: The criminal threat to broadband for disadvantaged schools
Inside Government is a newsletter written by Premier Helen Zille.
The criminal threat to broadband for disadvantaged schools
I spent much of the past week immersed in a new activity in the Western Cape government. It is called Stock-Taking.
Stock-taking involves a regular, detailed review of progress and problems in our administration’s key focus areas, which we call “game changers”.
We have chosen our game changers carefully on the basis of their potential to help realise our long term vision, which is a “highly skilled, innovation driven, resource efficient, connected, high opportunity society for all”.
I will give a detailed report on each of our game-changers in my upcoming State of the Province address on Friday 19 February.
We have based our approach on a method pioneered under Tony Blair’s second Labour administration in Britain, which successfully delivered on the government’s core mandate.
I first heard about this approach several years ago, when former Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel, recommended at a Cabinet Lekgotla, that we all take time to read Sir Michael Barber’s book “Instruction to Deliver”. Sir Michael developed the game changer methodology for the Blair government.
I read the book with interest and concluded that the same approach would assist us in the Western Cape government. The system has been some time in the making, but the wheels are now rolling and the results are starting to show.
Without explaining the full methodology, it involves regular detailed assessments that are called “stock-takes”. At these meetings, the game changer teams, drawn from different departments and spheres of government, report in detail on every step required on the “road map” to achieve defined outcomes within the required time frames.
I learn an enormous amount about the challenges facing our government in this way.
One of our game changers is to integrate eLearning into our education system. This requires every school to have free internet access, which in turn requires that they are all linked to Broadband. We have committed enormous resources to achieve this, so that the “digital divide” does not drive further inequality in our society. By the end of this year almost every school in the Western Cape should be linked to broadband.
It was in the stock-taking session on our eLearning game changer that I was shown a detailed map of all the sites that had been reached by the Broadband roll-out so far. I immediately looked at the South East Sector of our City, stretching from Nyanga through to Khayelitsha, and noticed to my horror that the network had not yet been extended to our schools in this priority area.
Why? I asked. The core purpose of this gamechanger, I re-emphasised, is to bring the educational advantages of free, high-speed connectivity to our most disadvantaged schools. I was then told that the contractors have refused to work there because they have been repeatedly robbed at gun point, and their equipment, including cell phones and money, stolen. Apart from the fact that they fear for their lives, they cannot meet their delivery schedules if their programmes are constantly disrupted by crime. And if they do not meet their delivery schedules, financial penalties kick in.
In one case, workers were robbed at gunpoint on two separate occasions while working at the same site in Nyanga. They were busy connecting 19 sites to Broadband for the benefit of local residents. The contractor packed up and left, refusing to put his staff at further risk.
So here we have a profound irony: our eLearning game changer is primarily meant to assist disadvantaged schools, but we cannot deliver connectivity to these schools because of crime. If we allow this to continue, the advantaged schools will continue to get more, and the digital divide will merely grow.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest game changers in our society would be to dramatically reduce crime. Why doesn’t the Provincial Government focus on that? The answer is: We do not have the power to take the necessary action to achieve it. It is not our constitutional mandate. We only have powers of “oversight” over the South African Police Service which we use to the fullest extent possible.
Improving education, however, is our core mandate, and is also a key long-term anti-crime strategy. We cannot use crime as an excuse for failing to fulfil our mandate, but in truth it is an enormous barrier.
The Police and the Metro Police already expend considerable resources accompanying emergency vehicles into crime hotspot areas (because, believe it or not, criminals even target ambulances transporting critically ill patients). But the police have informed us that they cannot have a physical presence at every delivery point in the South-East sector for our broadband roll-out, because it takes days to dig the trenches and install the fibre. I understand their dilemma.
We are now facing an additional problem: the theft of fibre optic cable. This is a dreadful new phenomenon, which brings no commercial value at all to the thieves, while playing havoc with our budgets and delivery plans.
Neotel, our service provider, now brands their fibre optic cables so that criminals are informed that connectivity cables contain no valuable metal and are not worth stealing. We hope they are fast learners.
But once again, unless communities wish to protect their infrastructure, there is a limit to what government can do. It is hard work to lay cables -- but also to dig them up. Surely the perpetrators are seen by community members who know that a crime is being committed. We need them to be our eyes and ears on a 24/7 basis if they want the investment required to improve their children’s lives to bear fruit.
We are offering as much support to communities as we can to become actively engaged in crime prevention. We offer financial support and training to Community Policing Forums, provide Safety Resource Officers (SRO’s) to schools, and make significant investments in security infrastructure at government sites, including new after-school complexes where learners have access to extra-mural programmes in the afternoons, so that they are not targeted by criminals and gangs on the streets.
We are building partnerships with, and resourcing, neighbourhood watches, to help in the fight against crime --and where they work they are having a real impact.
So residents of crime-ridden communities have a choice. If we work together to ensure the safety of contractors installing valuable infrastructure in their areas, and then subsequently protect the infrastructure, we will connect all schools to free high-speed internet by the end of the year.
If criminal elements continue to block our progress, we can’t achieve this.
This is a choice we need to make in order to open up opportunities that never existed before for hundreds of thousands of young citizens. It is not only the government’s responsibility.
Spokesperson for Premier Helen Zille
Tel: 021 483 4584
Cell: 071 564 5427