20 May 2005
South Africa has launched a new institute to boost social and economic growth through training, research and development in information and communication technology – three years after President Thabo Mbeki first raised the idea of a national “ICT university”.
The African Advanced Institute for Information and Communication Technology (AAIICT) – also known as the Meraka Institute – was launched in Pretoria on Tuesday. “Meraka” is a Sesotho term for common grazing land, denoting sharing, mutual benefit and the potential for prosperity.
The institute is housed the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and brings a number of existing CSIR projects under one umbrella while opening the way for new ones.
Apart from developing ICT products and services, and providing intellectual capital to the industry, the Meraka Institute will collaborate with local, regional and international ICT organisations through staff and student exchanges and co-operative programmes – particularly those that tackle the “digital divide” between richer and poorer countries.
Projects under way
The CSIR is already engaged in a number of ICT projects, throughout Southern Africa, which the Meraka Institute will take forward.
Open Source Centre
Open source software is very much like digital meraka. Unlike most proprietary software, open source software is available at little or no cost. More importantly, the intellectual property of its inner workings – the source code – is not a closely guarded secret of any individual or organisation.
Most of the Meraka Institute’s research and educational initiatives make use of open source software. The institute’s Open Source Centre promotes the use of free and open source software (Floss) in the public, private and civil sectors. With the Shuttleworth Foundation, the CSIR also supports the “Go Open Source” campaign.
Wireless Africa aims to create sustainable, community-owned wireless infrastructure for the health and education sectors in Mozambique and Angola.
Human Language Technologies
Human Language Technologies (HLT) enable people to interact with technology and get information through language. HLT seeks to overcome barriers of language, illiteracy or disability, and includes research into both text and speech translation. One of the current research projects is OpenPhone, a fully open source telephony platform that will provide multilingual voice services in all of South Africa’s official languages.
National Accessibility Portal
This will enable people to access information and services irrespective of ability, gender, language and literacy level. The prototype demonstrator is based on internet technologies and uses open source software.
The Digital Doorway project, a joint initiative with the Department of Science and Technology, aims to position more than 100 robust, free-standing computer terminals in communities around the country. Communities will be able to teach themselves functional computer skills through free, 24-hour access to computers with motivating content.