Ivanplat community members were trained to educate community members on how to navigate the APP

Ivanplats has provided free WiFi access to 20 communities surrounding its Platreef mine in the Mogalakwena municipality, with a population of about 150 000.

This can only be described as one of the most innovative community sustainability initiatives ever undertaken in the South African mining sector, writes Laura Cornish.

Ivanplats has invested in the delivery of a project that has provided Platreef’s surrounding communities with access to the internet, providing residents with opportunities to participate in the digitally-connected world and develop their own means to enhance and improve the qualities of their lives.

Driven by Ivanplats’ social and labour planning team and the Bonega Communities Trust, the project, headed by project manager Lisl Fair, has provided free WiFi access to all 20 communities surrounding the mine within the Mogalakwena municipality, with a combined population of about 150 000.

“The project, officially launched on Youth Day, 16 June 2017, was designed to encourage stakeholder engagement – using fair and transparent communication on an individual level.

“We wanted our community members to have two-way access between themselves and the mine, establish ourselves as an accurate, reliable and responsive source of information about the mine and, from there, build on to creating sustainability and independent opportunities for our communities,” explains Fair.

“Ultimately, we wanted to establish a digital platform that would encourage skills development and education, open the digital doorway to look for work, education, supplement school work, apply for bursaries, etc,” Fair adds.

The majority of local community members are using the free internet access to look for job opportunities and bursaries as well as ways to upskill themselves and communicate with the mine

With the objectives clearly outlined and Makhesha’s “Year of the Youth” declaration in 2017, Ivanplats and service provider CanPro constructed a browser-based app called Maru a Mokopane, or The Clouds of Mokopane.

When close to one of 20 WiFi hotspots located throughout the communities, locals now have access not only to the internet but also to the Maru a Mokopane app that facilitates the above-stated objectives and so much more.

“To ensure our communities understand the app and know how to navigate it, Ivanplats recruited young members within the community (41 in total), and trained them as individual small enterprises whose responsibility as entrepreneurs are to deliver against their contracts to train their neighbours how to use the app and understand the benefits it offers,” Fair continues.

The platform includes job opportunities with the mine and within the broader Limpopo region, local news, advertisements for local businesses, information on health and safety, direct messaging with the mine, the ability to create and post professional CVs and access to the local trust fund. (Through an established community trust, the communities have 20% ownership of the mine and access to associated funds.)

It was through this trust fund that community members collaborated with the mine to expand the WiFi reach from an initial eight communities to all 20.

“This shows true collaboration between the mine and the communities and proves mines can successfully operate in harmony with their communities,” Fair states.

With over 21 000 registered users, Fair adds that the majority of individuals are using the free access to look for job opportunities and bursaries as well as ways to upskill themselves and communicate with the mine which, to date, has responded to over 10 000 messages.

“Generally, we can see they are looking to improve their lives and when they use the internet for this. Our communities are using the app for the purposes we intended – and we equate this to phenomenal project success.”

In addition to free access to educational, business and government websites, each user also gets 300 Mb of data per day free to use at their discretion.

“Ivanplats’ Maru a Mokopane project is the most recent manifestation of our solution that is designed to help companies bridge the digital divide with meaningful, user-friendly and accessible digital services delivered via customised community portals.

“As our network of clients expands, we are also in a better position to foster collaboration between communities and engage other companies that wish to add value in particular locations by investing in digital services for their stakeholders,” Liesel Kirsten, MD of CanPro concludes.