Still no in­ter­net for East­ern Cape li­braries

Grocott's Mail - - NEWS - By SPHUME NDLOVU, ROD AMNER and JES­SICA EVANS

There has been no pub­lic in­ter­net ser­vice in any of the East­ern Cape li­braries since Septem­ber last year. Ac­cord­ing to pro­vin­cial De­part­ment of Sports, Re­cre­ation, Arts and Cul­ture (DSRAC) spokesper­son, Andile Nduna, this is due to a fail­ure to make pro­vi­sion for these ser­vices in the 2017-18 DSRAC bud­get and a break­down in the re­la­tion­ship with the ex­ist­ing ser­vice provider.

Free in­ter­net ser­vices are still avail­able to users in li­braries in all the other eight prov­inces.

How­ever, Nduna promised that in­ter­net ac­cess would be re­stored to li­braries by Novem­ber this year.

Free in­ter­net in li­braries was made pos­si­ble af­ter 2014 as part of a R3-bil­lion grant to the Na­tional Li­brary for the coun­try­wide up­grad­ing of li­braries. In­ter­net ac­cess was pro­cured from a na­tional ser­vice provider, Vox Telekom, and paid for through the na­tional De­part­ment of Arts and Cul­ture (DAC). The in­ter­net project is known as Mzansi Li­braries On­line.

How­ever, in 2017, the DAC handed over the re­spon­si­bil­ity for manag­ing and bud­get­ing for these in­ter­net ser­vices to its pro­vin­cial De­part­ments of Sports, Re­cre­ation, Arts and Cul­ture (DSRACS).

Nduna con­firmed that the East­ern Cape DSRAC failed to bud­get for this tran­si­tion.

He said the process was fur­ther com­pli­cated when ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween East­ern Cape DSRAC and Vox over the re­newal of the con­tract broke down in Au­gust 2017. He added that the cause of the break­down was the fail­ure to agree on whether the in­ter­net hard­ware that had been in­stalled in li­braries by Vox would be owned by the ser­vice provider or by the li­braries them­selves.

Vox has a dif­fer­ent ac­count of what hap­pened. Janie Maritz, who was un­til re­cently the ac­counts spokesper­son of Vox Tele­com, East­ern Cape, told Gro­cott’s Mail in June this year that her com­pany had with­drawn its ser­vices af­ter East­ern Cape li­braries had amassed a debt of over R1 mil­lion on their Vox ac­counts.

Mean­while, ac­cord­ing to the min­utes of a re­cent Makana Li­brary Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee meet­ing, Vox has be­gun the process of dis­man­tling and re­mov­ing its hard­ware from Makana’s li­braries.

Nduna said DSRAC had ear­lier this year made pro­vi­sion in the new 2018-19 bud­get for in­ter­net in li­braries and was now in the process of fi­nal­is­ing the con­tract for a new ten­der to sup­ply all the prov­ince’s li­braries.

He promised that in­ter­net ser­vices would be on-stream by Novem­ber 2018.

Nduna said DSRAC had at­tempted to ap­point an al­ter­na­tive in­ter­net ser­vice provider ear­lier in 2017, and was quoted in Ground Up in May that the ser­vices would be rolled out in June. How­ever, Nduna said it had been dis­cov­ered that this provider would not be able to de­liver suit­able in­ter­net con­nec­tions to more “ru­ral li­braries” and the ten­der was not granted.

Mean­while, Rhodes Uni­ver­sity li­brary di­rec­tor Ujala Sat­goor, said the lack of in­ter­net ser­vices in East­ern Cape li­braries was “a trav­esty”.

She said that “a lack of po­lit­i­cal will and vi­sion” and un­der­spend in pro­vin­cial bud­gets had led to the gen­eral ne­glect of li­braries and, in some cases, li­brary clo­sures.

In a Makana Pub­lic Safety and Com­mu­nity Ser­vices port­fo­lio com­mit­tee meet­ing in Au­gust, Coun­cil­lor Brian Fargher spoke about the com­mu­nity’s frus­tra­tion at the lack of in­ter­net and the col­lapse of other ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices in li­braries.

Fargher said par­ents and pupils had staged a demon­stra­tion at Mid­dle Ter­race and that he had writ­ten to the MEC, to no avail.

“This is se­ri­ous,” he told coun­cil­lors and of­fi­cials. “With stu­dents un­able to ac­cess the in­ter­net, this means they can’t do school projects, they can’t ap­ply for bur­saries – which means they have less chance of ac­cess­ing ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion.”

Last year, the Cur­rie Street Com­mu­nity Li­brary com­mit­tee wrote to DSRAC’S Sarah Baart­man District of­fice about the in­ter­net shut­down, along with a long list of other con­cerns about the li­brary.

Eight months later, af­ter sev­eral at­tempts to get an­swers from DSRAC’S district head­quar­ters in Mil­ner Road, the li­brary com­mit­tee re­ceived a re­sponse in late June from DSRAC se­nior man­ager Vuyiseka No­kenke.

In the let­ter, No­kenke said that while she un­der­stood the frus­tra­tion of the com­mit­tee, the mat­ter was “re­gret­tably be­yond our con­trol”.

“Pro­cure­ment pro­cesses that are to be fol­lowed in order to ap­point a new ser­vice provider are now de­lay­ing the whole process,” No­kenke said.

She said that the com­mit­tee’s con­cerns would be for­warded to the Head of De­part­ment Photo: Tif­fany Ma­jero

“for his im­per­a­tive at­ten­tion”.

Cur­rie Street Com­mu­nity Li­brary com­mit­tee sec­re­tary and li­ai­son of­fi­cer, Lizanne Du Preez, who is also a teacher at Ge­orge Dick­er­son pri­mary school, said she has wit­nessed the con­se­quences of the pub­lic li­braries in the area not hav­ing in­ter­net and its im­pact on school pupils. “Learn­ers can­not do re­search projects,” said Du Preez.

In an in­ter­view with Gro­cott’s Mail in mid-septem­ber, Nduna said that DSRAC re­gret­ted the lack of in­ter­net ser­vices in li­braries. The de­part­ment had de­cided to pro­vide all East­ern Cape li­braries with copies of Caps-aligned study guides by the end of Septem­ber to com­pen­sate for the lack of in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity.

Gro­cott’s Mail phoned a num­ber of li­braries around the prov­ince on 3 Oc­to­ber – none had re­ceived the promised study guides by that time.

*Ad­di­tional Sue Maclen­nan

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