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Exploring the Politics of Free/Libre/Open Source Software in the Context of Contemporary South Africa; How Are Open Policies Implemented in Practice?

HANDLYKKEN, A.. Exploring the politics of Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) in the context of contemporary South Africa; how are open policies implemented in practice?. The Journal of Community Informatics, North America, 8, sep. 2012. Available at: http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/962

p.1: Free/Libre/Open/Source Software (FLOSS) policies emerge from the open source and free software movement. South Africa adopted a FLOSS policy in 2007 requiring that government uses open-source software and adopts open licenses. The policy was justified as providing support for access to knowledge, citizens participation, democratisation, development and economic growth. Although, South Africa as one of the first countries in the world adopted a FLOSS policy in 2007 it does not necessarily mean that open source and open licenses are implemented in practice. This research explores a perceived gap between the promise and practise of the FLOSS policy in South Africa. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.4: Many have argued that the FLOSS policy would promote greater involvement of local SMEs in delivering government IT contracts. However, implementation here appears to be falling short. Keats states: If government where enforcing and living up to its FLOSS policy then FLOSS as a vehicle for ICT for development would be right up there, and there would be plenty of opportunities for SME's to innovate and offer innovative services for government based on the fact that they have one more kind of piece of the puzzle piece of the selection process for tenders in their favour and, but that's not happening you know, it's just not happening at all. And I think when the strategy for FLOSS for government was created that was one of the driving factors that said that would create opportunities for local growth (D. Keats, personal communication, June 11, 2010). -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.4: Big corporations though are not always a barrier to open source. Some companies investing in South Africa, such as IBM, favour open source. Calvyn Van Zyl at the IBM Open Computing and Linux Lab in Johannesburg says that IBM encourages their employees to use open source because it is also an incentive for learning and that IBM invests in Open source because it favours innovation (C. Van Zyl, personal communication, May 5, 2010). However, the reasons for which companies (large and small) may be supportive of open source are not always the same as the reasons held by campaigns and activists for the FLOSS policy. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.4: It is also important to be aware of different understandings of freedom and which citizens and communities benefit or are or are not empowered by certain open initiatives. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.6: In the context of South Africa, the issue of inequality is particularly important. There exists a large population who do not have access to computers and internet, or the necessary skills for effective access. Further study is needed of 'invisible groups' (Wyatt, 2003) or non-user's of technology (Oudshoorn, & Pinch, 2005). Without critical attention it is also possible that only the already empowered population will benefit from developments in FLOSS and open content (Gurstein, 2011). -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.6: Access to technologies and Internet will not change much for the majority of people if there is no contribution or participation. As Keats put it: “I think there is a huge need to continue to raise awareness around the philosophical implications, and linking threats to our freedom in a digital age, to threats to our freedom in other areas because it seems silly to give up... to fight for getting back your freedom... only to have it taken away from you in the digital world, when you start using technology” (D. Keats, personal communication, June 11, 2010). There have been a lot of projects related to technology and ICT for development, however, according to Maharajh: “until dealing with the issue of inequitable distribution of incomes, to say ICT for development would do something different is a lot of words but not really concrete things” (R. Maharajh, personal communication, May 5, 2010). -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.7: This field note explored a perceived gap between the promise and practise of the FLOSS policy in South Africa. Based on findings from the fieldwork we argued that diverging interpretations and meanings of openness are interrelated with local context and making of policies. We suggest that getting a FLOSS policy is not enough, but that the politics of implementation and participation of communities matter. It is questionable who will benefit from open policies and it is crucial to explore further questions regarding access, empowerment, inequalities and freedom. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014