Back in 2019, Vodacom set out to a Mpumalanga town called Wakkerstroom in order to connect its residents using 3G and 4G. Wakkerstroom is a small town known for its farming, with its citizens placing a heavy reliance on the industry.
Vodacom’s plan was to give the entire population – just over 1,400 people – a bunch of 3G- and 4G-enabled devices. Plus the connectivity to make use of them. The project was initiated with BPG Langfontein, a farm company in the town.
Most of Wakkerstroom relies on BPG Langfontein as a source of food and of work. But with limited access to other services, which are increasingly moving online, the town’s residents were battling. The idea was to give residents an easier way of getting online. Most were stuck using 2G-enabled phones. Soon after the initiative started, Wakkerstroom became, in Vodacom’s words, the first smartphone-only town in the country.
At the time, Wakkerstroom was a test run, to see whether or not the solution was a viable one. But this was three years ago – and it’s time to see if this project was a success or something to be left alone in the future.
Three years on
Vodacom has returned to Wakkerstroom to see if it has made an impact, however minor, in the town. The service provider reckons that matters have played out wonderfully.
Before Vodacom had arrived in 2019, connectivity was hard to come by in Wakkerstroom. When Vodacom arrived to give the residents their new devices, it also constructed four towers in the area. These would permit residents to use their 4G devices properly. Before the towers went up, however, townsfolk could only connect with each other through the use of two-way radio communication, with many residents not even having access to that.
Those problems are gone. Citizens noticed a difference almost immediately. One citizen exclaimed how happy they were to have connectivity in the area. Before, there was no way of even calling the police, or phoning for an ambulance whenever the need arose. Even just being able to phone their kids, something much of SA takes for granted, has been a blessing for them.
We can’t say connectivity could end the poverty in a town like Wakkerstroom, but Vodacom’s initiative looks to have had a positive impact. Improved access, to faster communication and to digital services, almost immediately improves quality of life these days. Unless you count access to Twitter. That doesn’t improve anyone’s life.
Plans for the future
It’s amazing what may be done when a big corporation decides to help out. This is exactly what Vodacom thought too. Vodacom’s statement about the project says, “Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce.”
“Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”
One of the main reasons Vodacom started this rural connectivity project was to test whether the idea was effective enough to copy and paste. The answer seems to be clear (and the company probably isn’t ignorant of the PR win). Over time, we will hopefully see Vodacom conducting more of these projects across more of South Africa.