Philip Machanick*
Department of Computer Science
University of the Witwatersrand
Private Bag 3
2050 Wits
South Africa


A key aspect of technology policy in South Africa today is universal access. This sounds like a technological problem, but closer examination shows there are significant cultural problems. As simple a concept as an internet cafe, for example, does not translate to a culture where coffee is not popular. One has to examine the essence of the concept of the internet cafe to translate it into something workable in other cultures. Another problem in a multi-ethnic country is language. South Africa has 11 official languages in addition to several others spoken by sizable minorities. Does universal access mean all languages must be accommodated -- or does globalization imply English must be forced on everyone? A final complication which makes South Africa interesting is that there is an extremely wide variation across the population in terms of literacy, prior exposure to technology and disposable income. Thus, abilities of individuals to use technology and to pay for it vary widely. This paper examines the cultural and social problems presented by a society as diverse as South Africa in terms of large-scale deployment of the internet.

Full paper not published, only abstract

Accepted for Multi-Ethnic Cyberworld track: Crossroads in Culture Studies Conference, Tampere, Finland June 28 - July 1, 1998.

* on sabbatical until September 1998 at Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, The University of Michigan, 1301 Beal Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2122, USA (734)763-8907;
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