News / Africa

South Africa’s Space Program Wants Twitter Input

Study says growth across Africa is driven by use of mobile devices, March 2011 (file photo).
Study says growth across Africa is driven by use of mobile devices, March 2011 (file photo).
Nadia Samie

A new study shows that social networking is growing on the African continent, especially in South Africa, where the country’s Twitter-active population posted around five million messages in the last quarter of 2011, double the amount of tweets coming out of Kenya, the continent’s second most Twitter-savvy nation.

Now South African authorities are getting in on the action, using the micro-blogging site to gauge public opinion on important matters -- most notably, the country’s space program.

South Africa’s National Space Agency is reaching out to citizens via Twitter, asking for input on what its agenda should focus on over the next 20 years.

It’s a move that hasn’t surprised Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx, an internet research company.

"The only surprise about the move onto Twitter and Facebook is that it took so long for a government agency to do it," says Goldstuck. "But it's appropriate that a high-tech agency like the Space Agency should take that step, because you would expect them to be visionary and forward thinking."

The main drawback of gauging public opinion via social media, though, is that it reaches only the internet-savvy market -- a small, mostly elite segment of South Africa's population.

"Initially, the internet user in South Africa, and therefore the social networker, was part of the higher income group," says Goldstruck. "But with the explosion of smart phones in South Africa, we're seeing the growth of the internet in the mass market through mobile access to the web and through apps and the like. And particularly because of the fact that any smart phone that you buy today will already have Twitter and Facebook installed on the device, or at least a logo or link to those services. As a result of that, the broader market is moving into social networks in this country. The fact that there's something like 4.8 million Facebook users in [South Africa] and as many Twitter users suggests that it's not only the haves, it's beginning to move into the arena of the have-nots."

To balance the scales, South Africa's space agency is also engaging citizens face-to-face, aiming to create an all-round robust public discussion on its planned space program.

To assess the power of social networking in Africa, one needn't look further than the Egyptian revolution, which began with a couple of Twitter messages. But how does South Africa measure up to other countries -- the United States, for example -- when it comes to engaging citizens online?

"There's a fundamental difference in the way government uses social networks in South Africa [as] compared to the U.S.," says Goldstruck, explaining that South Africa still has a way to go. "In the United States, social media and social networks played a major role in the last presidential election, and that woke up the entire landscape to the importance of Twitter, as both a campaigning and communication tool between government and citizens. In South Africa, it played a very small role."

But the government's first decisive step into the Twittersphere has got locals buzzing. It is only logical, they seem to think, that cyberspace would prove the ideal place to help plan the country’s journey into space.

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs