Right to call: Josie Abrahams, the Right2Know volunteer at the forefront of Vula 'ma connexion, argued on30 April that the privatisation of the means of communication was at the heart of unequal access to mobile phone technology.
It costs mobile phone networks in South Africa a mere 2.6c for a single text message to be sent over their networks. The 3000%-plus profit that these companies make when an SMS is sent - which places South Africa 6th on the list of highest mobile phone charges globally - is hindering basic communication among South Africa's poorest people.
These were arguments put forward during a series of public meetings at UCT related to the Right2Know Campaign's Freedom Week that was commemorated between 27 April and 3 May. The meetings, on 30 April and 2 May, were organised by a group of students known as Students Against Secrecy.
"We strongly believe that the right to communicate is inherent in the right to know," said Carina Conradie, a UCT psychology student and a leader of Students Against Secrecy, on 30 April. "We can't exercise our right to know without the right to communicate."
Excessive charges were felt most keenly by the poorest South Africans, added Mark Weinberg, Right2Know co-Ordinator.
"The International Telecommunication Union recommends that the amount of money people spend on cell phones shouldn't be more than 5% of their income," Weinberg pointed out. "There is research showing that, in the Eastern Cape, people are spending over 30% of their income on airtime, and are reporting that they have to choose between airtime and food and airtime and other consumables, and they will often choose airtime, because that is their access to their family, the hope that they might get a job, and a sense of being connected to something."
The discussions spoke to the Right2Know Campaign's recently launched 'Vula 'ma connexion' venture, which calls for affordable communication to be made available to everyone in South Africa.
UCT's upper campus was dotted with posters decrying the 'excessive' charges during Freedom Week, and a poster exhibition erected outside the Molly Blackburn Hall attracted the attention of passers-by.
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