Among the biggest hurdles South Africa faces is its multi cultural demographic and language barrier. With over forty six million people speaking in eleven official languages, it will be difficult for the region to create a centralized hub for technology. But not for long. In Pretoria, the Human Language Technology unit at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is developing new and more innovative ways to help people gain access to IT knowledge even with their diverse backgrounds. CSIR is one of the biggest innovator, technology and R & D institutions in Africa.
Researchers of CSIR’s HLT unit are now developing technology that will help diverse culture access to knowledge. Marelie Davel, co-head of the HLT research unit said that “In dealing with South African needs, we have to take into account the level of literacy of users, their technical sophistication, and cultural factors.” As proof of this, one of their highlights is the highly efficient, totally functional system for the introduction of new and comprehensive pronunciation dictionaries. She further explained that this system has been fully tested on several languages used in South Africa that include Sepedi, isi Zulu, Afrikaans, and Setswana. The research unit also created a system for speech synthesis in isiZulu because this is supposed to be the first language of more than 24% of South Africans. This system is currently being tested but once fully launched, this is expected to allow people not only to read available information in isiZulu but also give them the power to orally communicate in isiZulu with native speakers.
Another area of innovation for South Africa involving communication industry is the two-way process focused in the open source software industry. According to Shuttleworth Foundation’s Go Open Source campaign, at least 80% of the country’s annual spending totaling around six billion rand or roughly $1 billion on licensing and software goes directly to foreign companies. This growing dependence on enterprise software and hardware prevents the development and innovation of South Africa’s own IT skills and directly shuts off opportunities for building their own income source and economic growth.
Open source platform brings in the important tools and access that are often vital to the capacity of South Africa to produce original and home grown software not to mention the capacity to build new markets and opportunities in the local setting. Open source software will also help expand the current access of the region to computing and IT. This is due to the fact that open source OS often performs smoothly on supposedly obsolete machines compared to new versions of Microsoft’s Windows and other mainstream operating system. If there are no open source platforms, a lot of African children will have little or no opportunity at all to use computers simply because enterprise systems are way beyond the capability of the many schools to afford.
In the end, open source software will provide a more cost effective and wide access to computing which in turn will also provide children the capacity to access IT knowledge.