One woman’s vision: affordable laptops for Africa
In 1996 she was one of a handful of women technicians servicing computer hardware at what was then called Spoornet. Today she heads a computer hardware business, one of just a few in South Africa
Siddika Osman owns 60% of One Technologies, which designs laptops in South Africa and sources hardware components internationally. Intel, the US-based chipmaker, is one such supplier.
“Right now, in the build-up phase, we design [the laptops] locally, source them globally and support them nationally,” Osman says. “As time goes on, the intention is to set up a factory and build them here.”
Having access to technology can be life-changing, be it through having access to educational resources, selling a small business’s products online or offering work skills to international companies. “Technology enables progress, and everyone should have easy, affordable access to it,” says Osman.
But starting a hardware computer company isn’t a click away. Especially when your competitors are Apple, HP, Lenovo and Dell. To improve the odds, One Technologies decided to enter the market in phases, first targeting business-to-business customers, especially governments.
Osman is no stranger to dealing with governments and their companies. Her Nkgwete IT Solutions, which was launched before One Technologies was started, offers computer support — to 30,000 across South Africa. At Eskom, Nkgwete looks after 13,000 computers.
During Covid ... about 750,000 children dropped out of school because they didn’t have access to a device
The idea to venture from hardware support to hardware assembly came in the midst of the Covid pandemic, when many businesses and educational institutions were disrupted by lockdown measures.
“What startled me during Covid was that about 750,000 children dropped out of school because they didn’t have access to a device,” says Osman. “That’s where the idea was given birth that we needed to make technology accessible to everyone.”
Access to computer hardware is, however, expensive. “The problem that local IT buyers or consumers and small businesses in South Africa and other countries in Africa struggle with is the exorbitant international prices of technology,” says Osman.
One Technologies is taking the gap. It is especially the entry-level laptop, the 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD Easy Access device, that the company is banking on to enter the market.
“There is huge demand for the entry-level laptop,” Osman says. “The computer plays into the government’s South Africa Connect drive.” The first phase of that programme was delivering broadband internet access to 970 government facilities (down from the originally planned 6,135 sites in 2013) in eight rural district municipalities. It is now moving to its second phase.
“South Africa has a huge mobile device market, but children in the rural areas are using phones that don’t have smart functionality. If you want them to have access to online learning and YouTube, for example, they need the right device,” she says.
In his recent medium-term budget policy statement finance minister Enoch Godongwana allocated R1.35bn to the South Africa Connect programme for the 2023 fiscal year and R2.16bn for next year to complete phase two, which will connect 42,000 government facilities to broadband internet.
Osman isn’t banking on the government’s broadband connection drive only. In August last year, Botswana began providing laptops to all secondary school teachers and pupils. Its finance minister, Peggy Serame, has allocated about P2bn to improve broadband connectivity across the country this fiscal year. One Technologies has been approached about supplying devices.
This first step could allow the company to benefit from a continent-wide drive to digitise trade, education and government services.
“Everyone is talking about digitalisation,” Osman says, adding that One Technologies is already reaching out to other African countries to sell its products.
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