Sebenza vs. the Forces of Darkness
Reading time: 6 minutes
Author: Stuart Steedman, Chief Technology Officer, and author in his spare time
There’s a certain naive simplicity to watching superhero movies. If I put aside the nagging thought that I’m watching what is essentially soap opera for man-children, then the basic premise of a guy wearing his underwear outside his spandex going out to repeatedly slam the face of a near-omnipotent Threat To Mankind into the concrete sidewalks of some New York-esque American city … is fun, because it is simple.
Or even more reductively: there is a Bad Thing, and it can be made right by punching it until it learns the error of its ways, or more probably, flees until there’s a sequel to be made. Roll credits, gather up your empty cardboard popcorn tubs, and regret how much Slush Puppy you drank.
This kind of justice is appealing at a very visceral level: it suggests the possibility that one can rise up against a corporeal foe that is the concentration of all that is wrong with the world, and vanquish it in a way that ties up all the loose ends neatly.
It’s also why this kind of very human-like desire to portray all our problems as the root of a single issue has us – collectively – impotently angry at the villian in our current Saturday morning cartoon show: Loadshedding and the Forces of Darkness.
There’s no clear baddie in this show: Eskom is – after all – more the crater-pocked battleground than the villain itself. The actual villains are many and nebulous, take many forms, and are very good at obfuscating themselves behind contradictory news snippets and finger-pointing.
All this inspires a kind of furious hopelessness, as we scramble to work around the problem.
As members of the South African population, we are all affected in some way or another, and directly or indirectly, have felt the insistent push of inflation, food gone bad, and our ability to connect and be connected to, curtailed.
Unfortunately, despite this article’s misleading title, Sebenza isn’t necessarily the superhero that rushes in to save a grateful population from a destructive evil … but we are most definitely, an ally.
Even focusing on the taxi ecosystem alone, loadshedding ripples through it. Minibus taxis famously operate on a cash-only model, which suggests that you either have the cash you need in order to commute, or you have to go draw it. From an ATM. Which requires electricity to run, and is not equipped with backup power.
Household budgets have contracted to the point where almost nothing is left over for recreational pursuits, and coupled with South Africa’s very high data costs, means that for many, simply being online can sometimes be a luxury, or at very least, carefully rationed. For those that can afford it, the experience is brief, as you’re informed that in 59 minutes, the power to your area and your wifi router will stop.
For this problem at least, Sebenza has been able to fly in – cape flapping – to fill the void.
Sebenza rolled out its first wifi router to minibus taxis in 2019, and has been steadily and methodically increasing its footprint one vehicle at a time, to reach our current count of – well – many thousands, spread across minibus taxis and buses alike.
This footprint is concentrated in South Africa’s major cities, particularly in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.
Then – as now – the mantra has always been “Internet for the People”, and opening up your phone’s wifi screen at (for example) Bara Taxi Rank will show a flood of Sebenza wifi hotspots, indicating just how accessible internet for the people truly is.
There may be the continual thrum of many small generators trying to keep nearby stores trading, but during any duration of loadshedding, its business as usual for Sebenza, its fleet of taxis, and the commuters that rely on them for connectivity.
The wifi routers themselves are low-power devices, and draw their energy from the minibus itself, thus artfully sidestepping the power limitations of fixed-point internet spots. The routers have the capability to hop between network providers, allowing for the best signal to be locked on to. And most importantly – they offer free internet and content, without restriction. Do your internet banking, apply for that job, watch that video, or strike up an argument with someone over Twitter.
Practically though, Sebenza is loadshedding-proof, and serves many terabytes of data to commuters every month. On top of that (and unlike our nation’s power stations) Sebenza wifi routers are routinely maintained and upgraded.
Whilst we lack real competitors to measure ourselves against, Sebenza’s routers boast an impressive uptime average, with issues being resolved effectively and efficiently.
It’s not just commuters who benefit, however. Advertisers who have long used television as the medium of the masses to visually sell their wares, are increasingly finding that, thanks to a lack of power, television viewership has plummeted – particularly in the primetime slots, which is roundabout the time the nation is routinely bumped up two stages.
In the wake of this, Sebenza’s content platform has proven to be an effective way to get brands in front of people – and unlike television, this can be targeted and measured.
SebenzaTV – also data-free within equipped taxis – is geared to be the content destination for local producers who have simply been unable to get their productions in front of audiences in the face of declining television viewership. Such content can also be monetised through Sebenza’s video ad network.
Sebenza’s heroic rescue isn’t just against the practical solution of getting online: it’s also the antidote to what to do when your two-to-four hours of loadshedding kicks in.
As a fully interactive platform, Sebenza can stimulate your interest so that the lights turn back on whilst you’re fully engrossed.
This ranges from playing our (highly addictive) Logogame, to experiencing our (subscription free) video platform, to forming your ideal team in Fantasy Football … and the list of activities grows steadily.
South Africa has shown a remarkable tenacity in historically overcoming its own long collection of villains in its rogue’s gallery, and the current Agents in the Forces of Darkness are no different, to be defeated as those before them have been.
Sebenza – ever the ally to the victims of these ne’er-do-wells – remains resolute in its mandate of justice: bringing internet to the people.
Even during Stage 8.