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Role of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Rural Development

Info: 6311 words (25 pages) Dissertation
Published: 9th Dec 2019

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2.1.1 Components of ICT / What makes ICT?


2.2.1 ICT Access in the Eastern Cape Province



2.4.1 ICT in support of Education

2.4.2 ICT in support of Health Services

2.4.3 ICT in support of the Agricultural sector





According to the World Bank, in the world today approximately 46% of the population reside in what could be defined as rural areas. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure climbs up to 62% and in South Africa, specifically it is 35% (World Bank, 2016). In the South African context, the figure is lower due the nature of it being a middle-income country, therefore much more urbanised. In reference to the figures above one can conclude that in the developing world, a large portion of the population is rural. This is where poverty and under-development is rife.

In South Africa, the rural population has been on a steady decline for last couple of decades. This is due to people migrating to the urban areas in search of better opportunities (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014). There has been uneven development where rural areas lack basic infrastructure as compared to urban areas for sustainable human development (Herselman, 2003). All of this leads to uncontrolled urbanisation around cities. This means that rural development is an area that will need special focus

Rural development can be described as the strategy to improve the quality of life, the economy and social life of the people that reside in the rural areas (Moseley, 2003). The target group that this involves is the subsistence farmers, rural tenants and other people that reside in rural areas, whether owning land or not. This strategy is done to ensure that people in rural areas enjoy the similar level of benefits as urban people.

Information Communication Technology (ICT) has been recognised worldwide as a driver of new economic growth. It has been show to act as an enabler and facilitator of multiple industries. Therefore, ICT can be a catalyst for rural development (UN FAO, 2017). ICT can enable the developing world where most rural people reside to reduce the development gap with the developed world (Chapman and Slaymaker, 2009).

ICT when implemented with rural development has huge potential especially since the world is currently going through an information age where everyone is embracing ICT (N. L. Ruxwana, Herselman and Conradie, 2010).


In South Africa, access to ICT is at best uneven when one contextualises the access ratio between rural and urban areas. The statistics from the Stats SA 2015 General Household Survey reveals continued minimal access to ICT services by the people in the rural areas when compared to the urban areas (Statistics South Africa, 2015). Using the information from the survey for analyses, one would realise that to improve one’s livelihood, one has to migrate to the urban areas. The youth and the working-age groups are the ones that migrate to urban areas. This potentially can result in under-development of rural areas and particular demographic de-population. This unfortunately is the historical legacy of the spatial planning processes practised previously and are still persistent in the current dispensation (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014).

The lack of rural development forces people to migrate urban areas and this is causing economic decline in rural areas. The question is how ICT can assist rural development in improving people’s lives to encourage them to remain in those rural areas they reside.


  • To establish the factors that inhibit the use of ICT in the rural areas.
  • To determine the potential benefits of using ICT in rural areas.
  • To determine the state of ICT services accessibility within rural areas
  • To determine the current uses of ICT and potential opportunities created by ICT in rural areas.


  • What is the state of ICT access in rural areas of South Africa?
  • What are the problems that inhibit effective ICT implementations in the rural areas?
  • What benefits could be gained if ICT where to be used in the Rural development processes?
  • What new opportunities that could be realised by using ICT in rural areas?




Information Technology (IT) can be described as the utilisation of computers and related equipment to store, retrieve, distribute and manipulate data and information to achieve a specific goal or objective. In the recent past, there has been a convergence of IT, telecommunications and audio-visual technologies. This has resulted in the recently popularised broad term of Information Communications Technology (ICT) that reflects this convergence. This now means that IT has become a subcategory of ICT. The others being telecommunications and audio-visual technologies. In this study, the term that will be used will be ICT rather than IT.

ICT has become the new universal definition for describing and of the technologies that are used to store, retrieve, manipulate and transmitting of information/data. Via any electronic platform. This is the reason that one would discover a number of corporations in the ICT industry referring to Unified Communications (UC).

2.1.1      Components of ICT / What makes ICT?

These technologies make up ICTs:

  • Technologies to record information, digital cameras and electronic pen & paper;
  • Storage technologies like external HDs, flash disks and optical disks like Blu-Ray/CD/DVD;
  • Broadcasting technologies like FM radio, terrestrial TV, Digital Satellite TV;
  • Communication technologies like telephones, satellite phones, cell phones, electronic loudspeakers.
  • Traditional computing technologies like computer networks, PCs, software applications and mainframes.

These examples are not exhaustive as new components are invented regularly.


The United Nations Human Rights Council has declared and adopted a resolution that state that access to the internet is a basic human right. This right allows people to express their opinions in an open manner directly to the public sphere. South Africa (RSA) attempts to comply with the declaration when developing policy to expand access to ICT (Department of Communications, 2013).

According to the National Development Plan of 2011 (NDP), South Africa is embarking on a policy to upgrade and improve the state of ICT in the country. One of the issues identified as the cause of uneven ICT implementation in the country is the lack of integrated ICT planning as a policy. This is largely because before the National Development Plan, RSA last had a serious ICT policy review in 1995. Since then the ICT technologies have obviously evolved to such an extent that they have rendered the old policies virtually obsolete (National Planning Commision, 2011). Through the development of the NDP, the country’s leaders have realised that ICT can become one of the simplest ways that can expedite the development of the population. Various studies in the articles surveyed have argued that improved access to ICT can contribute to the development of people’s lives.

In RSA there is a very high mobile telecommunications penetration, this includes access in the rural areas of the country. This can be used as a determent of ICT access potential. The General Household Survey 2015 reveals that 54% of South Africans have internet access whether through wireless mobile or landline. Even rural provinces like the Eastern Cape, the focus of the study, have 46% internet access. The key question is to determine ways that in which this wide access can be exploited to improve rural communities.

The country has recently developed a number of policies to attempt to guide implementation of ICT. All these policies flow from the challenges that have been identified in the NDP. Some of the policies referred to above are:

  • South African Broadband Policy (SA Connect); National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper and ICT Vision 2020.

The government of RSA has also incorporated the implementation of ICT as part of the strategic programmes of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission under the project category SIP15 (Strategic Infrastructure Project) (Gillwald, et al, 2012). This programme aims “to ensure universal service and access to reliable and affordable and secure broadband services by all South Africans, prioritising rural and under-serviced areas and stimulating economic growth” (Dept. of Communications, 2013). This can be regarded as evidence that the RSA government is treating ICT at a strategic priority in the development of the country.

2.2.1      ICT Access in the Eastern Cape Province

According to the various studies conducted by the various institutions like Statistics SA, HSRC and ECSECC, the Eastern Cape (EC) province is regarded as the second poorest in RSA. The province is characterised by two major urban areas, Port Elizabeth and East London, and the minor urban areas dotted in the province. This means that the vast majority of the provinces settlements are rural in nature and are reliant heaving on rural type economic activities. The context of ICT access will be focused on the manner in which those rural activities could be supported.

In support of this point, the Eastern Cape PGDP states that the province has identified rural development, land and agrarian reform, agriculture and agro-processing as one of the core priorities. With the province being of rural character, the statistics would invariably reflect low access ICT services. According to the Statistics SA data, General Household Survey 2015 data reveals the province as being the second worse off when it comes to all aspects of ICT, with worse off being Northern Cape.

The challenges related ICT access are persisting due to the unequal development between rural and urban areas (Langa 2006, cited by Sithole 2013). Unfortunately, until recently, RSA still pursued development in the urban areas. The drive for this is by the continued migration of people from the rural to urban areas (Herselman, 2003). All of this results in underdevelopment for a province like the Eastern Cape.

In the province, ICT as with economic development is mostly concentrated in and around the two metropolitan areas of Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Bay.

According to the EC Vision 2030 Provincial Development Plan document, the EC Province is embarking on a programme to improve access to ICT services. This programme is facilitated through the rollout of Provincial ICT broadband infrastructure to connect all of the public services sites in the province (Eastern Cape Planning Comission, 2014). This programme will solve the challenges of the above stated imbalances.


Information communications Technology by its nature is a technology that requires a certain level of development in terms of basic infrastructure to function appropriately. This has a potential to be an issue since the focus of this survey is on ICT in rural areas.

The rural areas of EC Province and RSA in general often suffer from inadequate infrastructure development. These areas often have little or no basic infrastructure services like electricity or water (Greunen, 2013; Herselman, 2003; Pashapa, 2015). With ICT requiring electricity to function, it means that the will be difficulties in its implementation. There is also the matter of low literacy levels at most rural communities which will likely lead to low ICT technology usage (Moshapo, 2003 and Sithole 2013).

In a number of rural areas, there is a need to build actual school buildings, deliver study materials to enable learning and install water supply, and ICT access is definitely not a priority (Herselman, 2003 and Greunen 2013). The spatial characteristics of rural settlements tends to be scattered on the terrain and complicates any ICT project implementation. When an ICT company implements ICT connectivity, there is always a need to reduce the cost of delivery. However, due to the nature of rural areas being scattered the costs can escalate because of this terrain (Moshapo and Hanrahan, 2003).

In reference to the state of wireless connectivity in the rural areas using the connectivity maps from the three mobile operators, the analysis of the state of coverage reveals cell coverage gaps. This results in unstable wireless connectivity in the rural areas.

This shows that regardless of the relatively high mobile penetration in the rural areas, they do not seem to receive the same connection quality as the urban areas. This means that rural communities who are relying heavily on the mobile networks for their consumption of ICT services are unable to use the services effectively. Their mobile phones will remain just for making social calls and never for commercials purposes (Pashapa and Rivett, 2015).

The most critical element that should be taken into consideration prior to the implantation of ICT is the availability of electricity. This is a critical success factor for the functionality of ICT services. Therefore, for anyone who implements ICT services in rural areas should incorporate into their plans the provision of power if it is not available. The lack of electricity is the biggest hurdle to the implementation of ICT services in rural areas.

The other factor that has hampered effective ICT services implementation has been the regulatory frameworks of the country that are in conflict with each other. This is caused by the conflicts that occur at between governments ICT custodians at leadership level (Gillwald, Moyo and Stork, 2012). This has led to conflicts in policy directions taken by those custodians.

Issues like the digital migration of terrestrial television, which would open up spectrum that could be used for ICT connectivity has yet to be finalised. This results in programmes like the broadband rollout being stifled. One of the goals of the programme being to bring ICT services to the far-flung rural areas of the country (Department of Telecommunications & Postal Services, 2016).

There is also the matter of language literacy where most of the ICT services being implemented are usually in English.  This is a challenge because people in rural communities of RSA tend to be conversant in vernacular (Lesame and Seti, 2014). Therefore is makes sense for some ICT services to be made available in vernacular of those specific areas. The language factor would allow people to understand the potential benefits to be gained with ICT provision and thereafter identify it as a priority part of their development.


The Eastern Cape Province is considered one of the poorest provinces in South Africa. The Statistical SA agency ranks it second most impoverished when poverty variables are used in determining its poverty outlook. The province suffers from inadequate provisioning of basic services. According to the EC Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs, the province has a potential for economic development in the primary and secondary economic sectors. Therefore, ICT implementation should mostly focus on realising the potential of these sectors.

2.4.1      ICT in support of Education

According to Mdlongwa (2012), “ICT is a global network in which ideas are exchanged, or information and knowledge is shared, through using communication like cell phones and technology like computers to connect people”. This is one of the descriptive definitions in relation to ICT in the education sector.

It has been stated previously on this literature that RSA suffer from uneven development. A glaring digital divide persists between rural and urban areas (Jensen and Goldstuck, 2002 cited by Conradie, 2003). This divide is pronounced in relation to school facilities and favours the schools in urban areas. ICT can be used as one of the tools to reduce the gap between the schools at these different areas (Mdlongwa, 2012).

These days the world exist in an era where ICT affects all aspects of human interaction, as a result knowledge of ICT is of great benefit to individuals. It is with this fact that the RSA government has been trying to introduce ICT as part of the education curriculum (Dzansi and Amedzo, 2014).

According to the UNESCO Policy Brief in 2012, Hawkridge (1990) had identified six rationales that are the most relevant when relating ICT and education. However, Voogt (2012) argues that only three are the most relevant. These are; “Social Rationale”, “Pedagogical Rationale” and the “Vocational rationale” as mentioned by Voogt (2012):

  • Social rationale – related to the need to provide support to students in order to acquire ICT knowledge to prepare them for the rest of their lives.
  • Pedagogical rationale – relates to the improvement of the educating and learning process with the support of ICT.
  • Vocational rational – relates to the significance of ICT skills acquired by students to empower them in their future employment endeavours.

In consideration of these rationales, one may conclude that they provide justification of the provision of ICT services as part of rural development.

In terms of Pedagogy, ICT has potential to change the way the process of teaching and learning is conducted at the rural areas. According to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR), rural settlements usually are spatially scattered with low population. They are characterised by poor infrastructure. Considering this fact, ICT can assist in closing the rural-urban gap when it relates to teaching. The Department of Basic Education has identified ICT as a way to support the provision of equal education to all (Dzansi and Amedzo, 2014).

The RSA government ICT flagship programmes like SA Connect and SchoolsNet are meant to provide schools with ICT service (Herselman, 2003, & et al), thus enhance the teaching and learning process. With the aid of ICT, rural schools can receive same information as their urban counterparts. This could be facilitated through a process of online teaching where one teacher can provide services to multiple schools for a specific area of the curriculum where there is scarcity of qualified educators.

In terms of Social rationale, ICT technology certainly provides equality by giving access to education to both male and female children (Dzansi and Amedzo, 2014). The access to information that is available on the internet has a potential to break the cultural stereotypes that oppress women, where they are fed filtered information that limits their thinking capabilities. The women of tomorrow can assert themselves in their societal environment as they have access to the same information as men (Hawkings, 2002 cited by Dzansi, 2014). This is very important considering that in the rural areas it is often women that are left behind to run households when men go to the cities for employment. Access to information informs women of the rights.

In terms of Vocational rationale, the RSA schooling system loses about 50% of students during the schooling lifecycle; this is according to the Dept. of Basic Education – Director General.

In an effort to counter this challenge, the department plans to introduce three streams in the education system. These streams are the following; “Academic”, “Technical Occupation” and “Technical Vocational”. Looking at the streams one can conclude that on two of them, students will be required to leave school with some kind of skill. This is where the provision of TCT skills at school can assist. These skills will allow students to be ready for employment once they leave school and thus increase their employability chances.

Even though ICT has shown such a potential to solve some of the challenges related to the education sector, it is not a panacea to all the challenges that exist (Conradie, Morris and Jacobs, 2003; Herselman, 2003; Chapman and Slaymaker, 2009; Voogt, 2012). The ICT technologies still have dependencies on the availability of infrastructure, the availability of skilled educators and the enthusiasm of both students and educators in using ICT tools because without these variables planned outcomes may not be achieved (Herselman, 2003).

2.4.2      ICT in support of Health Services

Various studies in the literature reviewed have shown that ICTs have a great potential to improve the lives of rural communities (Louis C H Fourie; Trunel van der Westhuizen; Elmarie Maree; Nico Elema, 2008). The UN Development Programme states that ICT can provide an advantage in the delivery of public services(N. L. Ruxwana, Herselman and Conradie, 2010). This is none more critical than in the provision of public health services because ICT can be used to bridge that rural-urban divide (Conradie, Morris and Jacobs, 2003; N. Ruxwana, Herselman and Conradie, 2010; and Conradie, Morris and Jacobs, 2003). The rural areas of the country are characterised by lack of basic infrastructure (Herselman, 2003) and the settlement are usually small and dispersed (Telkom SOC, 2015). This results in difficulties in providing ICT services.

The Presidential National Commission on Information Society and Development provided a definition of e-Health in the RSA context; the combination of electronic communication and IT to generate, transmit, store and retrieve digital data for clinical, educational and administrative purposes.

Many e-Health technologies have been implemented in RSA since the dawn of democracy. The solutions referred to previously are as follows; Electronic Health Records (EHR), Hospital Information Systems, District Health Information System (DHIS), Open MRS, Patient Portals, National Health MIS. All of these have had varied levels of success due to the core problem of basic infrastructure at rural areas (Herselman, 2003). Each of these technologies had a potential to bring health services to rural communities if not for the previously stated infrastructure challenges. This is where programmes like SA Connect and Broadband Rollout (Department of Communications, 2013) have become very critical in providing the infrastructure needed by the systems.

According to Statistics SA and the data from the big three national mobile operators, RSA has high mobile penetration, at more than 86% (Statistics South Africa, 2015). The thing is that mobile phones are not reliant on stable electricity like other ICT infrastructure and they are not complicated to operate, even illiterate individuals normally can operate them with ease (van Greunen, 2013). They are the most promising technology that can close the digital divide. This means that m-Health has great potential in supporting the delivery of health services to rural communities in the country (Leon and Schneider, 2012; Department of Communications, 2013).

All of these technologies have great potential, though they are dependent on acceptance by both the health professionals providing services and the rural communities at the receiving end. The communities would need to be informed of these technologies and the potential benefits to be gained.

2.4.3      ICT in support of the Agricultural sector

Agriculture is the mainstay livelihood for the majority of rural communities. ICT has been recognised as a major driver of economic growth and development. These technologies have potential to address challenges faced by the agricultural sector and possibly enhance some of the processes involved (UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, 2015). The studies into the potential of ICT in the agricultural sector are driven by the growing need of increased food production to provide for the growing population. In addition, in the agricultural industry there are health risks where technology may provide solutions (Ademeyo, 2017).

The applications of ICTs in the agricultural sector have potential when it relates to information and knowledge sharing of best practices (Oladele, 2015; UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, 2015). According to Statistics South Africa by 2016, about 15% of the country’s population was involved in agricultural practices. The share of the agricultural economy is even higher in rural provinces like Eastern Cape and Limpopo where a large number of people are involved in subsistence farming. These figures support the reasoning behind the use of ICT technologies in agriculture (Ramoroka, K. & Jacobs, 2013).

In the today world, one always has to consider the matter of Climate Change that is forcing the agricultural sector to adapt its practices to minimise the effects of the unpredictable weather while increasing food production (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014). Therefore, access to information on the climate to update the farmers is of utmost important.

In the following sub-sections Ademeyo (2017).chose particular areas where ICT can be applied:

  • Land Management – The use of Spatial Decision Support Systems like GIS. Rural communities can manage their land resources effectively.  The advantage of these technologies is that they can function on the mobile platforms that are widely used in RSA. According to Greunen (2013) mobile phone are not reliant on stable power supply and are used by most rural communities, as they require minimal skills to operate.
  • Livestock Management – Livestock are one of a few commercial sources of food and capital that is available to rural communities. Thus, important for them to be protected (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014). The welfare and production capacity of livestock can be greatly enhanced by having constant access to information(Ademeyo, 2017). The use of GPS tagging on livestock can assist in monitoring its movement and behaviour while it feeds to detect any abnormalities (Nadimi et al., 2012 cited in Ademeyo, 2017). In layer poultry farming, the climate control of a chicken house is critical for optimal egg production because incorrect variations can affect the well-being of the poultry.
  • Plant Disease Detection – In crop farming, an early detection capability of diseases can starve off disaster. This process is difficult when done manually, hence ICT technologies can assist in this process. A good example of this is in the citrus industry where a disease called greening is problematic. This disease can lead to major crop losses. A technology developed by (Pourreza et al., 2015) to detect this disease on citrus fruits with the use of special imagery has been of great assistance to the industry. Since this technology was invented, its application have expanded to pest infestations on orchards.
  • Irrigation Management – The Department of Environmental Affairs states tha water is a scarce resource and an arid country like South Africa needs look after it. The country has already allocated 98% of all available water resource for human usage (Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014). Farming uses large quantities of water for irrigation, and so its management is paramount. Ademeyo (2017) cites Arabi and Bauder (2015), who developed a mobile application tool that allows users to monitor soil moisture. This application uses the standard mobile network to function and so can be used by farmers as long as they have access to a phone. This application allows farmers to better irrigate their crops by informing them of when to irrigate and the amount of irrigation required so that water wastage is minimised. An application like this would be very useful in an arid country like South Africa.

All of the technologies that have been presented require some connectivity where wireless or landline. This is just another justification in support of the SA Connect programme being driven by the government.


In conclusion, the rural areas require a lot development intervention for those communities to improve their livelihoods. ICT can help however, this needs to be a coordinated effort between different sectors because ICT is just a tool and can only be relevant if it is used to support the livelihoods of rural communities. Basic infrastructure in rural areas is problem and ICT is depended on it for it to function effectively so government needs to play its part in that area.

The rural communities need to be educated on the opportunities that exist within their own areas, be capacitated on the tools that are available to support their ventures and all of this should be done to address their needs. ICT should be used to solve local challenges so as to close that gaps with their urban counter parts.


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Telkom SOC (2015) ‘ICT Challenges and Opportunities in the South African Healthcare Industry’. Telkom. Available at: http://www.telkom.co.za/today/media/downloads/Healthcare_and_Technology.pdf.

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Voogt, J. (2012) ‘ICTs for Curriculum Change’, UNESCO Policy Brief April 2012. Moscow: UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education, (Policy Brief April 2012), p. 12. Available at: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002202/220243e.pdf.

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(Herselman, 2003; Moseley, 2003; Chapman and Slaymaker, 2009; N. Ruxwana, Herselman and Conradie, 2010; Department of Environmental Affairs, 2014; Statistics South Africa, 2015; UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, 2015; World Bank Urbanization Prospects, 2016)

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