Towards bridging the digital divide in post-apartheid South Africa: a case of a historically disadvantaged university in Cape Town

Lena Nyahodza, Richard Higgs


South Africa’s historically disadvantaged university libraries are, like others, challenged to meet patrons’ demands through the provision of relevant infrastructure, services and information-related skills to enable users to function in the digital information age. Their historic disadvantage is compounded by two levels of the digital divide: their situation within a developing nation (the ‘global divide’), and contending with a relative paucity in skills and resources within this context (the ‘local divide’, as a legacy of apartheid). This paper reports on a master’s study undertaken to explore whether the electronic services initiated in post-apartheid South Africa by University of the Western Cape (UWC) Library are perceived by primary stakeholders (users and library staff) as effective in bridging the digital divide. The study employed a phenomenological qualitative design, supported by critical theory. Purposive sampling was used to select two sets of samples for data collection: postgraduate students and UWC librarians. Data was collected from forty students through an online questionnaire, and interviews were held with six UWC librarians. Findings suggest that the UWC Library has emerged as a competent agent of democracy: most of the users perceive the e-services being offered as useful and meeting their needs, and the library currently provides ICT infrastructure, internet access and information-related skills programmes to support the university community. However, challenges encountered include slow internet connection, security concerns, shortcomings in information literacy, problems of access and accessibility (including language), and reluctance to engage with unfamiliar technology. While the institution does make an effort to bridge the digital divide, recommended further research, such as evaluating the impact of slow internet speed on research and learning or enhanced interventions in information literacy, could further support more equitable access to information.


digital divide; academic libraries; higher education; post-apartheid South Africa

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