“We’re working to turn every cell phone into a tool for democracy,” says Koketso Moeti, Founder and Executive Director of amandla.mobi, an organization that builds power for black people, with a particular focus on low income black women, by connecting and amplify voices to hold political and corporate interests to account in South Africa.
“Having access to the internet, changes everything. Our own story shows that: we went from being a small community of activists to suddenly connecting and joining with people across the country.” Technology impacts the organization on every scale: “Social media gives our message national and international attention, but I can also SMS neighbors if we’re having a smaller community protest, and they can shut down the roads so the police can’t reach us. Suddenly we are not small and isolated, lost in the world. We are connected together in building power.”
Ensuring access to this powerful tool is the key – and one of the organization’s most recent campaigns gets right to the heart of that.
Data Must Fall is a campaign to fight high – and unjust – data costs in South Africa, which has some of the highest costs in the world. The charges disproportionately impact low income consumers, who buy small data bundles, which are far more expensive per megabyte than long-term data plans (with a higher upfront cost).
“We mobilized a lot of people,” Koketso notes. “We had online petitions and lots of culture jamming work to educate people on the inequality of what was happening. One of the phone operators sponsored a walk in Johannesburg and we put banners all along the route revealing the ways that they’re exploiting people. Eventually, we got our comms regulator and the Competition Commission in South Africa to take action. There was an open meeting – but even though the operators have offices all over the country, they had it in a fancy venue in Johannesburg that lots of people couldn’t access. We had people send us voice messages which we played when we had our time. Technology helped us bring people into spaces that they are shut out of, and make their voices heard.”
The result? Bundle rates dropped in price by over 50%.
As the Covid-19 pandemic sent the country into one of the world’s most restrictive lockdowns, the power of technology became more and more evident. “Our community has more than doubled over the last year,” says Koketso. “But technology itself is not a ‘solution.’ A cell phone without a person is nothing. Technology is about people. And people can drive progress if we act together.”
The onus, then, is strongly on us. “We have a responsibility to make our voices heard,” Koketso reminds us. “When you throw technology into an unequal world it can be used to widen gaps and exploit people. We see so clearly, that reactionary forces who want to use the internet to spread mis-information, or to use it for profit or worse, 100% will – and they’re going to be well-funded too. We need to be a counterweight, and use a critical eye, and join together to build the world we want to live in.”
Where can we start?
“There’s more than one way to contribute to advancing a struggle,” says Koketso. “It takes all of us with different skills, access points, and vantage points. So find your own way, start somewhere – our campaigns can be a good entry point – then go deeper. Also, remember change isn’t always about action. It’s also about divesting. That can be a struggle, but we all have a role to play in divesting from systems of oppression too.”