SA government launches open source centre

By   |  October 19, 2003

Government on last week deepened it commitment to open source software when it co-launched the CSIR\’s Meraka open source resource centre. The centre is jointly sponsored by the CSIR – the country\’s industrial and scientific research parastatal – and the Department of Science and Technology and has been established to stimulate the development and implementation of open source software both in Government and more broadly in business, education and the private sector.

Government over the past year has become one of the global leaders in the promotion of open source software and Cabinet recently adopted an open source software strategy. The State Information Technology Agency (SITA) spends around R3bn on IT annually much of which is spent on licensing fees.

Rob Adam, director general of the Department of Science and Technology said \”open source software is an opportunity to create a world class ICT industry in South Africa. By continuing to simply use proprietary software we relegate ourselves to be second class citizens in the ICT world.\”

Adam said the centre represents \”one of the main\” investments of the department into open source software.

Nhlanhla Mabaso, manager of Meraka, said the centre is intended to \”facilitate the speedier adoption of open source software. He said the centre will focus on three sector areas. In the private and civil sector the centre will aim to stimulate the development of open source software and build partnerships for growing the South African ICT industry. In the public sector the centre will advise on policy, strategy and appropriate OSS tools. In the education sector the centre will promote OSS as a teaching and learning platform and promote the development of OSS training materials.

Mabaso is also the current chair of the Government IT Officers Council (GITOC) OSS workgroup but he said the work of Meraka would not focus exclusively on OSS in the public sector.

Open source software such as Linux is increasingly being seen as an alternative to proprietary systems such as those from software makers such as Microsoft and others. The substantially lower costs of purchase are seen as very attractive for developing countries looking for ways to reduce the barriers to entry for users and is seen as a key way of overcoming the so-called Digital Divide.

Mark Shuttleworth said \”open source is going to be key for education and entrepreneurship in South Africa. As an educational tool open source software is unstoppable\” because it removed the artificial barriers facing students through unaffordable licensing costs and restrictions on what they can do with the software.

\”If we want to build an India style software environment in South Africa we are going to have to do it by building on the open source software revolution.\”

Meraka is a Sotho word roughly translated as communal grazing grounds.

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