How Can South Africa Kickstart Its Tech Industry? – The Atlantic

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“What we are trying to do is simultaneously address the tech skill shortage that companies face in the Western cape, as well as provide opportunities to unemployed youth,” said Alethea Hagemann, a skills-development-program lead at CapaCITI, describing her organization’s work as a “win-win situation.”

But critics of programs like CapaCITI warn that technology isn’t a fix-all for South Africa’s systemic problems, and shouldn’t be treated as such. “There’s this tendency to see technology as a magic bullet,” said Chenxing Han, a professional writer who studied the negative and nuanced sides of mobile technology in Cape Town. “There are these ideas and then there’s the reality: Running into barriers.”

A myriad of barriers stand between disadvantaged communities and the country’s flourishing tech sector. For one, although the South African government allocates more money to education than any other sector of its public spending, studies show that South Africa has “one of the worst school systems in the world,” according to World Policy. Before 1994, education in South Africa was racially organized, with separate schools, universities, and teacher colleges. Today, high-school students don’t take general technology as a subject, and students who live in historically resource-starved areas don’t necessarily develop technological literacy from a young age. A lack of reliable electricity also makes it difficult to have working technology inside the classroom, and the Internet itself is pricey. What’s more—even if students like Zungu have a university degree, there aren’t necessarily enough companies who can employ them, in part because of a saturated tech market, budget constraints, and a lack of consumers.

Bryan Pon, the research director at Caribou Digital, a think tank that analyzes how technology is changing in emerging markets, believes that it’s overly optimistic to expect nonprofit or start-up programs to lead to sustainable economic opportunity. After all, if a large percentage of the population doesn’t have money to pay for Internet, there’s little demand for the development of products that live online. And the South African tech industry can’t provide the kind of funding, mentor networks, or institutional advantages to budding developers that are available in the West, so it’s harder for companies to get off the ground.

How Can South Africa Kickstart Its Tech Industry? – The Atlantic