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Country Feature - South Africa

800px-Flag_of_South_Africa.svg.teaser.pngAs announced this is the first in a series of Country Feature we are going to publish on the ict@innovation website. The feature highlights projects, organisations, initiatives and individuals working with FOSS.

As you can see in the interesting contributions by Keutlwile Leso, Paul Scott, and Nico Elema, which we appreciate greatly, there is a lot going on in South Africa and we hope this Country Feature will provide you with some new insights into South Africa's FOSS ecosystem and encourage you to participate and engage in FOSS activities wherever you are!

We have also included an overview of the ict@innovation activities taking place in South Africa: past, present and future as well as information on how to use the ict@innovation website to get in touch with FOSS actors from South Africa.

If you feel like you have your own interesting story to contribute, either from South Africa or another country, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be more than happy to share it with the rest of the ict@innovation community!

The first ict@innovation Country Feature

Moving 2010 FIFA World Cup fans and tourists from A to Z with FOSS - Molemi NGS

An Interview with Paul Scott (UWC / AVOIR)

AVOIR node in South Africa

Interview Nico Elema – Global Image (PTY)

Overview of ICT@innovation activities in South Africa

Networking with the ict@innovation Community

Moving 2010 FIFA World Cup fans and tourists from A to Z with FOSS - Molemi NGS

With the FIFA World Cup 2010 well under way, the world has seen many surprises so far. Favourites often have not been able to meet expectations and underdogs have managed to surprise football fans around the world. And who would have guessed that a similar picture can be seen behind the scenes of the organisation of this major event.

Although most fans and tourists are probably unaware of this, a young company that goes by the name of Molemi NGS has developed a Free and Open Source (FOSS) intelligent transport system that helps them in travelling from one place to another. Keutlwile Leso, managing partner at Molemi NGS highlights: “At the touch of a button, one can quickly get to the desired destination.” The software behind the intelligent transport system is based on several FOSS solutions and relies heavily on GIS software. As opposed to the major players in the South African IT-business, Molemi NGS ( has managed to establish itself precisely by specializing in FOSS solutions, which can be considered a niche in South Africa.

Next to the World Cup, Molemi NGS has managed to get contracts with large companies such as Vodafone, Cell C., NetOne and ACL. While this admittedly does not automatically indicate a trend towards FOSS in South Africa, it goes well along the lines that the big players are no longer in any position to ignore the FOSS-underdog and keep on playing their proprietary game. With regard to the future Keutlwile Leso is very optimistic: “We have had our fair share of challenges. Determination, hard work and delivery were the key to overcoming them. In the future, we want to see ourselves as a multinational company”.

ict@innovation has been following the work of Molemi NGS and has conducted an interview with Keutlwile Leso to find out more about their business model and FIFA World Cup related project.

ict@innovation: Please give a brief description of project that you have acquired in the framework of the 2010 FIFA World Cup

Keutlwile Leso: The Intelligent Transport System (ITS) was a requirement by 2010 FIFA World Cup host cities to allow tourists and fans to plan their trip easily. The system had to provide pre-trip and real-time information on tourist attraction, accommodation, events, shopping centres, etc. The core requirement was for the ITS system to intelligently provide transport options with maps & directions.

ict@innovation: Where did the idea for a FOSS-based project for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa come from and how did Molemi NGS get the contract?

Keutwile Leso: South Africa is highly competitive but filled with Multinational companies who specialises in proprietary software. We at Molemi NGS always felt that FOSS will give us that competitive advantage when bidding with these big companies. We went through a bidding process and our proposal was selected because it was more cost-effective and at the same time allowed more functionality to be developed.

ict@innovation: How did you establish relevant contracts for the World-Cup Project? Was there initial scepticism concerning your FOSS-approach?

Keutlwile Leso: When we registered the company our aim was to go into business. We had to network with key players in the IT field. So from time to time we communicated our achievements to enhance our reputation. One of the key players approached us to bid partly due to the fact that one of Molemi NGS partners was the only Senior-credentialed SOA Architect in South Africa through ZapThink in the US. Indeed, some Government officials were quite sceptical. They couldn’t understand why we didn't charge for the applications and most of all why they were free. Three things helped us. 1. That the South African Government adopted the Open Source Policy. 2. The fact that most web servers in the world run Apache HTTP Server, which is a FOSS application. 3. The fact that Mark Shuttleworth made millions by selling his internet security company which used FOSS tools to develop its applications.

ict@innovation: Do you know of other FOSS projects that are involved in the World Cup?

Keutlwile Leso: Absolutely not. In fact, the other host cities purchased proprietary software as a solution. We tried replicating the same FOSS-based system in other provinces only to find out that they've already invested in a proprietary solution which was approximately 4 times more expensive.

ict@innovation: How has ict@innovation Training-of-Trainers (ToT) and similar projects helped further the work of your company or your personal career?

Keutlwile Leso: ToT was a major eye opener. It provided the much needed theoretical and general business principles, which are quite essential when preparing business cases for executive buy-in purposes. It also proclaimed FOSS opportunities available on the continent and the appetite to get into the software landscape which promotes software slavery.

ict@innovation: How do see the FOSS business climate in South Africa?

Keutlwile Leso: The South African government is in the post-development phase where they've adopted a policy. Although the The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) are ahead in terms of FOSS technologies deployed, the government needs to change their procurement practises to be vendor-neutral. The playing field will be levelled if FOSS education is introduced at schools and universities, not forgetting at corporate level.

ict@innovation: What factors caused you to kick-start with your business last year although the company had been founded a while ago?

Keutlwile Leso: The inspiration from ToT that there are business opportunities in FOSS, the fact that we have amassed some of the niche business management skills such as Enterprise Architecture, highly integrated complex solution design expertise in Telecoms, propelled us to go into business in full force.

An Interview with Paul Scott (UWC / AVOIR)

The AVOIR Network: Building Capacities for Local FOSS Development

AVOIR was formed in 2008 as a way for African Higher Education Institutions to leverage the talent and expertise that exists on the continent to create sustainable, excellent and able software engineering students and mentors through capacity building exercises. The African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources (AVOIR) builds capacity in software engineering in Africa using Free Software (Open Source) as the vehicle. A partnership of 16 African Universities in an alliance that includes partners in North America, Europe, and Kabul, Afghanistan, AVOIR is a network with a node in each member institution. ict@innovation has interviewed one of the central actors in the AVOIR network, developed and manager of an intership programme at UWC, Paul Scott, to find out more about the origins and impacts of AVOIR and Chisimba. Paul Scott is currently working at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) as Chief Software Architect for the AVOIR (, as well as the manager of the Free Software Innovation Unit ( based at UWC.

ict@innovation: Where did the idea for the formation of the AVOIR network come from?

Paul Scott: AVOIR was formed as an idea, led by Prof. Derek Keats (UWC at the time) with a few other members in similar positions in other institutions around the continent. As with most great ideas, the network bloomed and has grown extensively since then. The main idea behind AVOIR is to engage students and others (in an inclusive network) to create pan-African collaboration networks in capacity building through software engineering. This means that AVOIR is not primarily a software development network, but a capacity building network.

ict@innovation: What Software products have been developed within the AVOIR network?

Paul Scott: The products that are created through these capacity building exercises are world class software products (licensed under a Free GPL license) that anyone can use to create business opportunities as well as to boost productivity levels in institutions by delivering excellent services such as eLearning, collaboration suites and many many others. The initial products were somewhat limited to eLearning, but in subsequent versions (KEWL.NextGen and now Chisimba) have been created as frameworks that can be used to deliver a multitude of services and products quickly, easily and in an agile manner. Chisimba took the best practises from the previous versions and was engineered almost from scratch to create a world class application framework in this space.

ict@innovation: What significance do FOSS products made in Africa such as Chisimba have?

Paul Scott: Chisimba and related FOSS products empower Africans to compete on a global scale in a global market. The fact that everything is licensed under a Free license enables budding entrepreneurs to leverage the software products that they, themselves, help to create on a daily basis to create global business opportunities for themselves. The Chisimba core is also extremely accessible and all developers are considered peers, as opposed to having a hierarchical system of core maintainers and developers. This also means that developers do not have to collaborate across multiple time zones and fight politics and hidden agendas to create magnificent applications.

ict@innovation: When did you start the internship programme at UWC and how many interns have already successfully completed the internship programme?

Paul Scott: The internship programme at UWC is as old as the project itself. Many interns have completed a round of in service training and moved on to start businesses as well as to start work in some of the largest and most reputable organizations in the country. Internships are done on a practical level, so interns work on actual projects that are destined for production settings. This means that they gain valuable training in real life situations, and are mentored in actual work environments. Interns are also paid a stipend, which means that they value their contributions much more than normal. So far, almost 100% of intern projects have been successful real life projects, as opposed to play projects that are never really used.

ict@innovation: What lessons have you learned from the internship programme that you run which might be of value to other institutions and students alike?

Paul Scott: Interns are primarily people. What I mean by that is that when working across culture and skill level, not all are able to work at a specific pace and method. This means that you need to be extremely agile in your approach to problem solving as well as agile in your approach to dealing with specific environments. As a small example, some cultures value working in pairs very highly, whilst others not. This means that you need to ensure that the ethnographical aspects of software engineering are also taken into account!

Other aspects that may be important are:

  • Give your interns value by involving them in valuable (mission critical) projects

  • Budget enough time and patience to ensure that constant peer review and mentoring take place

  • Ensure and insist on only the highest quality standards and adhere to community standards

  • Participate in the community from the very start. There are a lot of eager people just waiting to help you out!

  • Ask questions in the beginning, answer any questions from other interns and developers that you may know the answer to. If you don't know an answer, make a good guess, it may set someone on the correct path

  • Community before code!

ict@innovation: What else needs to be done to build FOSS-coding capacities in Africa?

Paul Scott: As with most things, I think probably education and advocacy are most important. Using non-free software and developing non-free software can almost be viewed as a form of neo-colonialism where revenue generated from software products and development activities is spent on license fees and royalty models. I think that if we all work together towards a common goal (such as within a network like AVOIR) we are able to compete quite easily with other global players and at the same time, keep revenue within our local African economies, creating job opportunities as well as businesses opportunities; which is extremely valuable.

Contact to the AVOIR node in South Africa

  • University of the Western Cape

    • Postal Address:

      Private Bag X17

      Bellville 7535

      Republic of South Africa

    • Physical Address:

      Modderdam Road

      Bellville 7537

      Republic of South Africa

      Telephone: +27 21 959 2911

An Interview with Nico Elema (Global Image PTY)

Mapping Africa with open GIS

In 1996 Nico Elema saw the need for the provision of a Geographical Information System (GIS) and related services for the Western Cape client base in South Africa. This idea led him to establish the company Plandata Western Cape, which was able to extended its operations to the whole of South Africa in the following four years. In 2000 a merger with the Town & Regional Planning Company (Urban Dynamics) led to the establishment of Global Image ( This move extended the team and the fields of expertise beyond the scope of GIS solutions.

Next to his work at Global Image, Nico Elema is also working as a FOSS researcher at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), where he dedicates a lot of his research to FOSS in Local Government in South Africa. Furthermore, Nico is also a member of FOSSFA and interacts with the African FOSS network on a daily basis. ict@innovation has interviewed Nico to find out what experiences he has made working with and teaching students about FOSS, in particular open GIS.

ict@innovation: When and how did your involvement with FOSS start?

Nico Elema: I have always worked with other companies that use FOSS and understood the value such software and development methods hold. In my personal capacity I have experienced the value of FOSS since 2005 when I converted my Windows PC to Ubuntu, and knew that the day would come that FOSS GIS would become a reality and FOSS GIS software would become mature and user-friendly enough for mainstream use. This happened in about 2006 when I started using FOSS GIS in training and capacity building workshops, and at clients when I implement larger Geographical Systems.

ict@innovation: As a lecturer at UWC, do you see that students are showing a particular interest in FOSS or is that not the case?

Nico Elema: I lecture part-time at the Information Systems (IS) department at UWC. I mention that specifically, as we do not teach Information Technology (IT) as that is another department. We focus more on the business side of IS. There is an awareness of FOSS amongst students, and I always make a point of it in integrating FOSS into the curriculum that I present.

The IS department also has a venue called the FOSS-Lab (established with the support of the Mark Shuttleworth Foundation) which runs only Ubuntu-Linux PC's. We use this lecture room extensively, and there students can access the university portal, web and applications only through Free and Open Source Software.

ict@innovation: There seem to be many FOSS GIS applications out there, what is the business case?

Nico Elema: Firstly, the business case lies in the FREEDOM to use ANY of the available FOSS GIS packages. The freedom lies in that there is no vendor lock-in when you use FOSS GIS. For me, the focus should always be on the data (not the software), which should be in industry standard formats, and accessible through any software package, either proprietary such as ESRI ArcGIS (if you use your freedom to choose so) or any of the FOSS GIS packages.

ict@innovation: What systems do you use when training and who are your clients?

Nico Elema: I use FOSS GIS (either Quantum GIS or MapWindow GIS) extensively in training, where I teach people the principles of GIS using desktop GIS software. I'm able to train as many people as I want, and do not have the limitation software licensing can have. Imagine I try to train 30 people at once on software that costs from about US$2,000.00 per license (that is US$60,000.00) even before I start my training? Remember that it's not money in my pocket, it is money for the proprietary vendor! Clients for training come from all sectors, and include small and large NGO's; large government departments etc.

ict@innovation: What systems do you use and who are your main clients for open GIS?

Nico Elema: When we build very large Geographical Systems for organisations, we also build what I call Hybrid-Geographical Systems where we mix proprietary- and FOSS geographical software. We use MapServer (FOSS) with PostGIS (FOSS) to “spatially enable” the PostgreSQL (FOSS) server database, allowing it to be used as a back-end spatial database for Geographic Information Systems (GIS), much like ESRI’s SDE (Proprietary) or Oracle’s Spatial extension (Proprietary).

Clients would typically include Government Departments and larger organisations in different sectors such as mining, financial etc. as these systems are typically extensive in development time and budgets.

ict@innovation: Is the availability of open data not often the largest problem for non-public actors to effectively use GIS applications?

Nico Elema: The lack of freely available data is a factor, but the tide is slowly turning as organisations are more educated on the advantages of making data available. There are numerous examples where basic data is freely available over the internet, or the organisations have processes and procedures in place where you can request for certain data, and it is provided by CD (where you only pay for the CD and man-hours to compile the CD, and not the data itself). Of course, government organisations must try and strike a balance between making public data available but also doing so in a responsible manner to not give a strategic advantage away or infringe on privacy issues.

ict@innovation: What are the difficulties that you have come across in your work?

Nico Elema: In the GIS industry, the most predominant software in use by organisations are the ESRI Arc suite of software, which is proprietary with licensing starting from about US$2,000.00 per user upwards and has been around since the 1960's. The software is perceived as very mature and stable software, and to a certain degree this is the case. The difficulties I thus experience is to convince people that there are mature enough Open GIS software, and that there are global support for it through the internet if you need support.

Overview of ICT@innovation activities in South Africa

  • At ict@innovation you can find a pool of trainers, who have acquired training experience and expertise in "African FOSS Business Models for IT-SMEs" through a Training-of-Trainer programme of ict@innovation. The trainers are listed by country. You can feel free to contact these resource persons, when looking for services related to training in Open Source and Business aspects, particularly "African FOSS Business Models".

  • You can find out more about the trainings that where held in South Africa by checking out the blog posts that were writing on the training.

  • Of course, you can also access the training materials at ict@innovation. One of the seven case studies that was prepared for the training as part of the curriculum features a business model developed in South Africa.

  • Recently, ict@innovation met with representatives from the AVOIR network at a planing workshop, held at UWC. Plans to implement at mentored training programme at nine different AVOIR nodes were made. Find out more about the workshop and plans for the internship programme.

    Networking with the ict@innovation Community

    Since the launch of this website, a number of people and organisations working with or interested in FOSS have joined the ict@innovation community by registering a profile.

    Through the “General Search”:

    There are several ways to use ict@innovation to network with the community:

    • If you are interested in the persons or organisations FOSS activities you can send messages via ict@innovation or the given contact information.

    • You can also use the ict@innovation websites to create groups on topics of your interest – such groups provide a forum, a wiki, and a document sharing space. And of course,

    • You can share your FOSS story by blogging on ict@innovation.

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