n Mousaion - The effects of information and communication technologies on indigenous communities in South Africa : a library and information science perspective

Volume 32, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0027-2639



When information and communication technologies (ICTs) are introduced in an indigenous environment, they bring along with them mass media, popular culture and global languages such as English. This may cause conflict with existing local traditions and may sometimes erode cultural stability. Paradoxically, these technologies can also empower the same community with new tools to create new economic, social and political opportunities besides preserving, promoting, and even safeguarding its indigenous cultural identity. This dichotomy begs the question: under which conditions can ICTs empower indigenous communities? This article investigates this question, focusing on the role of ICTs in promoting indigenous peoples' livelihoods in South Africa. It analyses key factors under which information and knowledge can be instrumental for the empowerment of marginalised groups. The article argues that improved access to information coupled with ICT skills can enhance indigenous peoples' capabilities to make strategic life choices and uplift their own livelihoods. Furthermore, the article develops an alternative evaluation framework for ICT interventions in indigenous communities based on Sen's (1999) capability approach. In contrast to the dominant narrative around the 'digital divide', this framework places the human development of indigenous communities other than ICTs at the centre of the analysis. With examples and experiences from two case studies from South Africa and Uganda, the article concludes that there is no direct causal link between ICTs and the social development of indigenous communities, but that in fact this relationship is shaped by a dynamic, multi-dimensional interrelationship between technology and the social context.

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