Orange Farm gets connected

19 July 2005

From a group of brick buildings surrounded by clusters of shacks, a number of community members are trying to take Orange Farm in Johannesburg from a low-tech informal settlement to a centre of modern technology.

The Orange Farm ICT Hub is housed in the settlement’s library. Through it, 15 community members have already been trained to use computers for office and administrative purposes.

The hub forms part of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector support programme in the City of Johannesburg’s department of economic development, marketing and tourism.

Centre Manager Aubrey Cwathi has been at the hub since its inception. He had basic computer skills to begin with, which he has been able to expand through working at the centre.

The hub is promoted mainly through leaflets distributed to community members, by posters and by word-of-mouth.

“There are two three-hour classes daily, from Monday to Thursday,” Cwathi says.

Computer literate
Most of those who completed the six-month course have matriculated, but would like to become computer literate and increase their chances of finding employment.

According to Kabelo Mphafi, operations manager for poverty alleviation in Johannesburg’s Region 11, the hub also secured a sponsorship from US firm Computer Science Corporation to assist with items like furniture, stationery, office equipment and projectors.

“We want to create a professional environment within the Orange Farm ICT Hub, to make it totally different from what you will see outside the centre,” said Douglas Cohen, the programme’s consultant at the Council.

James Sekhonyane, who has been a trainer at the hub since December 2004, says students are taught various skills, from a basic introduction to computers and using Microsoft Office, to using the internet and learning about desktop publishing.

“We are also working towards getting accreditation from the Isett seta [information systems, electronics and telecommunications technologies sector training and education authority],” he said.

Wireless Internet and VoIP
In a boost for the hub, one of the country’s major internet service providers, Internet Solutions, has decided to use it as a test bed for wireless internet and voice over internet protocol (VoIP).

VoIP is a technology that allows voice to be sent using an internet connection rather than the telephony technology now being used. This could lead to cheaper calls.

Internet Solutions has decided to erect a base station at the hub that will provide connectivity to centres located within a 15km radius.

A company report states: “Initially five separate locations within Orange Farm will be connected back to the base station to provide internet connectivity and VoIP services to PCs and phones at these locations.”

Those members of the community who help run the centre are excited about the prospects that such a development will bring.

Source: City of Johannesburg

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