The Learning Lunch podcast explores ideas, approaches and social innovations – creating opportunity for non-profit organisations’ teams to discover what others are learning and space to reflect on what these insights might mean for their own strategy and programme implementation.

Mobile technology has the potential to transcend structural divides and enhance access to services that could accelerate socioeconomic development. However, apps and digital offerings that could link marginalised groups to much-needed resources are not being used effectively because prepaid data is unaffordable to most South Africans. Yet, if they had access to the information and services offered online by public benefit organisations, it would improve their quality of life and grow our economy.

Amid persistent lobbying from organisations like DGMT for zero-rating, new regulations began to take effect in 2020. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic made zero-rating all the more urgent. The forced closure of schools and early learning centres across the country meant that teaching and learning had to move online.

The National State of Disaster and provisional spectrum regulations forced mobile operators to zero-rate a wide range of websites. Although these obligations ended in April 2022, there have been positive developments since. The biggest breakthrough coincided with a multibillion-rand broadband auction. One of the conditions of new spectrum licences is that all mobile content provided by registered public benefit organisations (PBOs) must be zero-rated, with the operational costs borne by the network operators.

However, the mechanism to facilitate this is not yet in place. So, DGMT has offered to set up and maintain a single registry for PBOs (to register PBOs and monitor digital content) or to provide funding for ICASA to do so.

In this Nourish & Flourish podcast, we talk about why mobile network operators have a legal obligation to zero-rate the content of public benefit organisations, and how civil society can make sure this obligation is met. We speak to Mignon Hardie, Managing Director at Life Choices and the former executive director of FunDza Literacy Trust – an organisation that offers free reading resources to young people online; and David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust, which has long been lobbying for zero-rating.

David Harrison is the CEO of the DG Murray Trust and a medical doctor by training. In 1991, he founded the Health Systems Trust (HST), a non-government organisation supporting health policy and services development in South Africa.  In 2000, he completed a Masters in Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, before returning to South Africa to head up loveLife, a national HIV prevention programme for young people. In 2010, he joined the DG Murray Trust, which is committed to growing South Africa’s potential.

Mignon Hardie is a social impact innovator dedicated to helping shape a more equitable society. Mignon is currently the Managing Director of Life Choices, a public benefit organisation that invests in youth to tackle inequality. Prior to this, she served as the founding Director and trustee of Fundza Literacy Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to growing a culture of reading and writing amongst teens and young adults, largely through the use of innovative technology. Mignon has an MBA from the University of Stellenbosch Business School and a BA (English and Economics) from UCT.

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We published a Public Notice in the Sunday Times of 2 April 2023 raising awareness of the lack of progress being made by ICASA around zero-rating. Click the image to view a larger version.

To move things forward around zero-rating we are conducting a survey to get a better understanding of the zero-rating landscape in South Africa. In 2020, during South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown period, work, learning, accessing of services and business had to take place online. This prompted government to institute regulations under the Disaster Management Act to ensure health and education content was zero-rated.

The disaster regulations have since been lifted. Some PBOs have stayed zero-rated; others have been removed by the mobile network operators. There is however hope. Contained in the spectrum auction regulations of 2022, government added a condition that all successful bidders must zero-rate the content of eligible PBOs.

We are trying to ascertain your organisations experience with zero-rating. Were you zero-rated? To your knowledge, are you still zero-rated? Please complete the survey by clicking the button below. The data captured will assist us in moving the needle with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to ensure zero-rating of PBO content gets urgent attention.

Explore our Learning Briefs in which we cover zero-rating: