Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic hub, is on its way to becoming a world-class smart city, and it’s making sure its citizens are tech-smart too.

Over the next 18 months, more than 720 000 Joburg households will be trained in digital literacy to enable them to use and benefit from broadband connections in the city.

The city, in partnership with the University of Johannesburg (UJ), recently launched the much-anticipated R80-million Jozi Digital Ambassadors programme, which is designed to bridge the digital divide across the metropolitan municipality. It is part of Joburg’s strategy to become a fully fledged smart city, which is in keeping with its Joburg 2040 Growth and Development Strategy (GDS).

This initiative dovetails with the outcomes of South Africa’s National Development Plan or Vision 2030. Its focus is on skills development, jobs and growth, community development and world-class infrastructure.

BECOMING A SMART CITY

A smart city is an environmentally friendly city created from a combination of concepts and technologies.

“We’re a city where the young lead the call for transformation, demanding the opportunity to work, improve their lives and become the best of what they can be,” said Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau. “As the city of Johannesburg we know and understand that with just a little help, our youth are not the challenge some think them to be, but our greatest asset.

“This is why we are investing so much in the youth of this city. This is in line with our developmental local government approach to the implementation of the 2040 Growth and Development Strategy.”

PARTNERSHIPS AND NEW PROGRAMMES

Recruitment and assessment of 3 000 digital ambassadors has begun, says the city, and is being done through Vulindlel’ eJozi, a programme initiated in partnership with Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator. The latter is an NGO established to break down barriers to youth employment.

The programme uses a new city portal called Maru a Jozi, a Setswana phrase meaning “Joburg clouds”. Maru a Jozi is an easy-to-use portal that gives the user free access to a range of basic online services. Each digital ambassador will be equipped with a tablet to train Joburg residents. They will also be mentored in business acumen so that they can learn to use technology to create innovation for their own enterprises.

“The city is not only empowering people with digital knowledge and understanding,” Tau said, “but is also addressing the fact that half of Johannesburg’s 4.8 million residents do not have regular access to the internet.”

He said this was being corrected by the rollout of more than 1 000 wifi hotspots throughout the city.

“The Jozi Digital Ambassadors programme will enable the broader Johannesburg community to engage with digital technology, for example, in online job seeking opportunities, banking applications and access to digital services,” explained Prof Johan Meyer, the head of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at UJ.