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Tuesday, 28 August, 2001, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
South Africa's internet generation
The internet proves popular at the Milkyway Internet Cafe
Leslie logs on to the internet every week
As Nelson Mandela takes part in a BBC News Online webcast to highlight his campaign for children, Philippa Garson in Johannesburg looks at the impact the internet is having on the lives of South Africa's young people:

Sundays are fun days for a group of children in Yeoville, Johannesburg who flock to the Milkyway Internet Café for their weekly cyber surf fix.

It is the only chance most of these eager youngsters get to experience the wonders of the information superhighway.

The children take to it rapidly
Children at the Milkyway cafe
And it is clear from the rows of sharply focused faces fixed on their screens that they know how to make the most of precious time.

When the Milkyway's Bruce Gillespie opened his small Sunday programme for youth in need he had 150 children clamouring at the door hours before opening time.

He had to introduce a small membership fee to control the overwhelming demand.

"Our target group are those kids who grow up hearing about the internet who can't get access to it," he said.

Praising the internet

"I come here every Sunday," says 12-year-old Lesley Harrison, an IT consultant-in-training.

Without the internet the world would be boring. I wouldn't get such good marks for my school projects

Abednigo Tau
"I read my email, chat and look at car pictures. I also play games and register for competitions.

"What I like the most about the internet is that you can find out such interesting things. And I can also email my auntie who lives in London."

Lesley wishes he had the internet at school and at home.

"I could show my family. No-one where I live even knows what the internet is."

Abednigo believes the internet will help educate people
Another regular, 13-year-old Abednigo Tau, adds: "Without the Internet the world would be boring. I wouldn't get such good marks for my school projects.

"The internet will help educate people. The future is basically computers. There is no job these days that doesn't need a computer. Everyone needs to be computer literate."

Limited access

As with all resources in South Africa, access to computers and the internet is vastly uneven.

Recent statistics on how many schools and homes are wired up are not available but most South African children, who live in townships and rural areas, do not have Internet access.

Dylan Davie says connection is still too slow
Those who live in the suburbs and enjoy state-of-the-art information technology both at home and at school, like 17-year-old Dylan Davie, are in the minority.

"I've been on the internet for six years now," says Dylan.

"Sometimes I step back and say, 'wow, this is amazing', but it has been part of my life for such a long time now, I'm used to it."

Dylan pursues his interests in music, religion and philosophy, researches school projects and chats to friends and others who share his interests.

His only gripes? The connection speed is still too slow and the internet's "addictive" pull gets in the way of his studies.

Growing demand

Gina Wessie: Addressing the information gap
Community centres like the 25 digital villages set up in disadvantaged areas around the country by Microsoft in partnership with other companies make small inroads into the great technology divide between haves and have-nots.

Microsoft Community Investment Manager Gina Wessie says the demand for access is so great that 30 new centres are being built.

"The young ones have just taken to it," she says. "They are not scared to make mistakes. They feel free to chat with people they don't know. They come in their school holidays, whenever they can."

BBC News Online is talking to Nelson Mandela online on Wednesday 29 August 2001.

Click here to watch the webcast





See also:

28 Aug 01 | Africa
Mandela's mission for children
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