Two South African local municipalities seek to use digital to deliver better services to their users

16 September 2022

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South African local government has a long history of underperforming in terms of providing services to the people who live in their local areas. Digitalizing these services is one way they can save money and provide a better service. Russell Southwood spoke to Poppy Tshabalala, Managing Executive for Public Enterprise, Vodacom about two municipalities that it is helping with this task.

The two local government entities are The City of Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality and Emfuleni municipality. The former is a large suburban region east of Johannesburg covering over 3 million people. The latter is a smaller local municipality that in population terms is about a third of the size of Ekhurleni.

Local government in South Africa has been plagued with problems of corruption, inefficiency and under-performance in service terms and as a result has significant financial problems. Their local residents are often fed up with them: inhabitants from Thembisa in Ekhurleni protested about increased municipal rates, electricity and service delivery by burning tyres and other objects to barricade roads in July last year. Of the two municipalities, Ekhurleni is the more advanced in terms of providing digital services.

Emfuleni in 2020 was described as a ‘broken’ municipality and was placed under ‘semi-administration’. A smart metering initiative for electricity and water with BXC under a Private Public Partnership collapsed in 2019 after doubts were raised by the Auditor General about the procurement process for the contract. In August this year a business association in Emfuleni called for the municipality to be closed down

Vodacom’s Tshabalala sees things like smart metering and cloud services as a way of increasing revenue collection and improving services: “We see an opportunity in delivering services more efficiently online. Without smart utilities metering, there will be arguments over billing from consumers. Smart metering means no disputes and more willingness to pay.”

For municipalities in financial crisis, she sees cloud services as a way to reduce capital expenditure and to improve services: “In local government, there are reduced budgets for IT infrastructure, making existing services difficult to sustain and making it impossible to do new projects. The more you face this challenge, the more adoption of cloud makes sense. There’s not so much to spend upfront on capital and we can assure availability and reliability.”

“As we saw very clearly during Covid, consumers prefer to access services anywhere, anytime. They don’t want to sit on hard benches in a long queue during office hours waiting to be called. This opens up more staff time for citizen-facing activities. You can take services out to the field and resolve issues there. It increases the visibility of the municipality to the citizen. Citizens can also report issues online directly to the municipality. You can also communicate directly through apps with them about things like load shedding and water disruption.” As a cloud aggregator, Vodacom offers Microsoft Azure, AWS and Huawei Cloud. Ekhurleni has chosen Huawei Cloud and Emfuleni AWS.

It is providing a cloud-based call centre solution to the municipalities: “It’s a solution called OneNet Business. It means you don’t have to invest in physical all centre buildings. It’s fully compliant with ICASA regulatory framework. It integrates with CRM, ticketing and payment.”

But how will users access these online services?: “Gauteng, which they are both part of, is the most advanced province in the country and these are two of the more advanced provinces. The suburbs and townships are more advanced than rural areas elsewhere. Almost everyone has access to a mobile device and access to online services is largely through mobiles followed by laptops.”

Vodacom is also working on projects that provide Internet-of-Things surveillance of service levels and maintenance internally: “It helps monitor water leakages, can measure water levels in dams and assist with illegal connections.”

So are these kinds of services relevant to local government entities elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa?: “These solutions are not country specific. They are designed for Africa and the Vodacom Group is selling them across every country. Of course, they are customizable to meet local circumstances but municipalities in other countries will have similar challenges.”

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28 SEPTEMBER, 8.45-10.30, Washington DC

How Mobile Phones are Catalyzing an African Revolution by JSI Center for Digital Health + Balancing Act

A lively in-person/online debate on how ubiquitous mobile phones and Internet access became the technological future of a continent

Africans using mobile phones are driving the largest social and economic developments over the last three decades. It is certainly the greatest technological change the Continent has seen recently - even eclipsing Internet access, which arguably only has widespread impact because of the ubiquity of mobile devices.

- How have mobile phones changed African economies and societies? 
- Where are the new opportunities we can leverage? 
- Who are the innovators and initiators we should know?
- What will Africa 3.0 look like and what’s needed to get there? 

Please RSVP now to join Russell Southwood, long-time African telecom analyst at Balancing Act, and author of the just-published book, Africa 2.0 - Inside a Continent's Communications Revolution, a ‘first draft’ history that goes beyond the hype to show what happened and guide our future efforts. 
He will be part of a lively in-person/online debate on September 28, 2022, and joined by special guests from government, entrepreneurship, international development - and you! - to explore how the humble mobile phone became and will be the technological future of a continent, including*:

Caroline Muhwezi, U-Report Global Coordinator, UNICEF
Ernest Ndukewe, Chairman Of The Board, MTN Nigeria 
Luke Kyohere, Chief Product Officer, MFS Africa
Dr. Revi Sterling, Digital Inclusion Senior Technical Director, CARE
Russell Southwood, CEO, Balancing Act
Teddy Berihun, Director of Information Systems, Palladium

Moderated by Jonathan Metzger, Director, Center for Digital Health at JSI
Please RSVP now to join us in-person to engage with the discussants and network with your fellow digital development practitioners from 8:45-10:30am on September 28, 2022. A light breakfast will be provided to help energize us for the stimulating conversation.

You can also RSVP to watch the online session via Zoom. 
Click on link below:

In Brief

DRC: The Raxio Group, a pan-African data centre developer and operator, held a ground-breaking ceremony that formally kicks off the construction of the first Tier III carrier neutral colocation data centre in the DRC, located at 12eme, Limete, Kinshasa.

Mastercard has collaborated to launch Google Pay in South Africa. Cardholders can conveniently and securely tap to pay with their Android phones or supported Wear OS devices in stores, where contactless is in operation, online and through apps, strengthening digital payment capabilities across South Africa….Liquid Cloud, a pan-African technology group, has announced that it has been approved by Amazon Web Service (AWS) as a Direct Connect Delivery Partner.

Turaco, an insurtech driving mass market insurance adoption, has announced the close of a $10 million Series A equity round led by AfricInvest, via the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund, and existing investor, Novastar Ventures. The round also included participation from Enza Capital, Global Partnerships, Zephyr Acorn, Operator Stack, Asi Ventures Limited, and Push Ventures. Founded in 2019, Turaco is a distributor, broker, and key customer interface between the underwriter and the end consumer. The insurtech company’s mission is to free people from the fear of financial shocks caused by unexpected health risks. Turaco is able to achieve this through a B2B and B2B2C business model, forming partnerships with top tech-enabled companies with a large pool of customers or staff in emerging markets, including some of the continent’s most trusted brands such as Sun King, One Acre Fund, Tugende, M-KOPA and VisionFund.

A start-up that uses novel connectivity technologies developed by Google promises to ‘revolutionize communications networks across land, sea, air, and space’. Aalyria announced its emergence from stealth mode with all the hyperbolic claims and lofty aspirations you would expect from a US startup. While not explicitly stated in the press release, it’s clear the company has been formed from elements of Google’s Loon project, on which it pulled the plug at the start of 2021. Specifically we’re looking at two distinct technologies salvaged from that wreckage. According to the announcement ‘Spacetime is a software platform for orchestrating and managing networks of ground stations, aircraft, satellites, ships, urban meshes, and more.’ It seems to be a kind of SDN on steroids that acts as one network to rule them all. The other tech is called Tightbeam, which is introduced as ‘the world’s most advanced coherent light free space optics technology’. That’s slightly confusing because the release goes on to say ‘Tightbeam’s coherent light laser moves data intact through the atmosphere and weather, and offers connectivity where no supporting infrastructure exists.’

Uganda: Dramatic dialogue, music and poetry are not the usual ways that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) raises awareness of and sensitizes rural communities on women’s land rights, but an innovative project in Uganda is doing just that through so-called Talking Books. Talking books are audio devices that allow people with low or no literacy to receive training in a dynamic way. In partnership with Amplio, a US based nonprofit social enterprise, the pilot project has adopted these easy-to-use gadgets to engage around 8,000 people, sharing stories and ideas on women's land rights and their benefits for households and communities. The Talking Books were developed by Amplio to reach remote, under-served rural populations that are often bypassed by conventional development initiatives. Designed for people with limited access to the internet or electricity, the Talking Books can play several hours of carefully tailored audio content, work offline, and function with either rechargeable or conventional batteries.

Angola: The Africell group has signed a partnership agreement with UK-based Perception TVCDN to launch a mobile TV service for Africell Angola customers, scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter of 2022, Agence Ecofin reports. ‘AfriTV’ will be available at no additional cost to Africell’s Angolan mobile network users, broadcasting major linear Portuguese-language TV channels and ‘new channels programmed automatically from Portuguese-language video-on-demand (VoD) libraries and social networks’, with a seven-day catch-up TV feature. Although offered as a ‘free’ service, the report notes that AfriTV will be monetised via revenues from data usage for consumption of the TV platform’s content.

South Sudan’s National Communication Authority (NCA) has announced it is adjusting the exchange rate for telecoms tariffs following requests from the country’s mobile operators. The current tariff exchange rate was set at SSP300 to USD1 back in 2020 but the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a rise in global oil prices (which led to higher costs for operators to power and maintain their networks) have prompted a review of the rates in order to ensure the continuity of networks and services. The move aims to gradually adjust the exchange rate for telecoms tariffs to the same level as the SSP600 holding base rate for the Bank of South Sudan. The adjustment will be carried out gradually over a 90-day period from 15 September to 15 December 2022.

South Africa: Social media platform TikTok has partnered with free public Wi-Fi company Think WiFi to launch 50 new free Wi-Fi hotspots as part of a pilot programme in South Africa. The hotspots will be spread across Soweto in Gauteng, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, and Bushbuckridge in Mpumalanga, with the pilot expected to run over six months.

Malawi: Airtel has indicated that it will continue to invest in its Malawian mobile phone unit despite currency weakness in the country. According to the telecom operator’s mid-year report, costs for Airtel Malawi increased by 199 per cent due to a 25 per cent devaluation in the Malawian Kwacha. After-tax profits declined by 21.5 per cent, which the company attributed to a worsening foreign exchange position as a direct result of devaluation. A recent statement released by Airtel Malawi reads, “The economy and company are exposed to continued impact of Kwacha depreciation and scarcity of foreign currency. Despite this, we continue to focus on investing more, growing more customers and revenue, containing cost and diversifying currency sourcing to mitigate the exposures.”