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The pupils of Sinenjongo High School in Cape Town have been lobbying for South Africa’s mobile operators to provide the country with free Wikipedia access since 2012. It only took a meme that started out with people challenging each other to down drinks in creative ways for them to get their wish.
In response to a Neknomination from Five Roses Tea, cellular provider MTN has become the first in the country to provide free Wikipedia access across its network.
Alongside the Sinenjongo pupils, Dr Pieter Streicher, MD of BulkSMS.com has been pushing the industry hard over the past couple of years to provide free access to the open source online encyclopedia. Streicher’s efforts started after working as a volunteer computer studies teacher at the school.
“I am very proud of the Sinenjongo High 12 A class of 2013 which I had the privilege of meeting during a couple of supplemental IT classes,” says Streicher.
“Thanks to the dedication of the teachers at Sinenjongo, and the hard work of the students, the 12 A class at Sinenjongo had a 100% matric pass rate. Several students are continuing their studies at tertiary institutions this year, and one student has been accepted for studying medicine at UCT. I hope that Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom Mobile will heed the call and offer free access to Wikipedia for their subscribers as well,” he adds.
Giving free Wikipedia to South Africa’s entire cellular base could prove incredibly important in increasing general access to the site. Of the about 13-million adults using the internet in the country, 5.8-million only access it on their phones.
Add in the fact that spending on data has grown from 17% to 24% of the total mobile budgets of 19 to 24 year olds and you start to get a clearer idea of what free access to Wikipedia could have on the generation below them.
Those potential data savings in a group that, in all likelihood, has less freely available income means a potentially large overall amount of cash that can be directed into other areas of the economy.
South Africa seems to have led the way in taking neknomination challenges in a positive direction, with a number of corporates getting on board.