Free internet for schoolchildren, spaza shops transforming into internet cafes overnight, and smartphone activities at township flea markets.
This is the success story of the emerging entrepreneur Thabo Malebadi (30), whose e-Mbizo business provides internet access to the entire Tembisa, east of Johannesburg.
Last year, Malebadi had a WiFi tower built for the high school in Tembisa. Now, he and his team provide 60% of the entire area’s internet at very affordable rates.
“We are very grateful,” says John Aphane, the computer technology teacher at Tembisa High School, a school with more than 2,400 students.
“Things were very difficult because we had only one computer with internet access. The fact that it’s still free is a bonus.”
Malebadi says he had to train people. Some of them didn’t even know how the internet works. “Secondly, there’s the financial aspect because it’s an extremely high-risk business. You won’t reap the rewards of something like this immediately.”
Furthermore, government assistance is lacking. That’s why his company approaches schools directly and has already erected WiFi towers at 31 schools. The service provider is Vox Telecom.
For the first six months, e-Mbizo provided free WiFi across Tembisa, but now only schools do not have to pay. Malebadi has provided WiFi to almost all the schools in Tembisa.
Packages for the rest of the public can be obtained at R10 for 24 hours, R60 per week, and R220 per month.
Some spaza shop owners have seized this opportunity to buy computers and open internet cafes because the average township resident does not own their own computer.
In Tembisa (the second-largest township in Gauteng), there are about 2,500 internet users among more than half a million residents.
Tembisa High has already received external sponsorships for three internet laboratories with a total of 100 sponsored computers, as well as a bunch of iPads.
It is a common sight to see children during breaks or after school gathering under the tower with their cellphones and earphones to watch music videos.
“You can’t dismiss these children,” says Malebadi. “The larger community has not been properly educated for internet use. They don’t know exactly what free internet can mean for you, and that makes it a very significant initiative.”
Malebadi himself is from Germiston and studied information technology at the Tshwane University of Technology and later business management at Unisa.
According to Malebadi, they will start another project in Alexandra by the end of the year, and by the end of 2014, he would like to expand e-Mbizo to Soweto.
Angelina Pale and Kholopelo Metshivale are two of Tembisa High School students who now use the school’s iPads with their friends.