As cellphones spread like wildfire over the African continent it should be humbling to leftists that big corporations are helping poor Africans in more practical ways than tree-huggers and socialist NGOs could ever imagine.
Huddled under a spiky tree next to the new cellular mast, Mhlapo interrupts a family meeting to check an SMS and deftly fires off a reply.
"Now I can contact my children. Before we had to wait months for them to come," she said in a mix of Sotho and Afrikaans, tucking her prized phone away inside a striped dress.
Mhlapo says she spends as much as 200 rand on airtime some months. Margaret Chinhete, a Zimbabwean woman who lives down the gravel road says she spends about 100 rand a month on her new phone, but easily covers that with the extra cash she makes from selling crafts now she can contact customers by phone.
"When I bought this I had never made a phone call. Now I use it to call business contacts. It saves me from walking kilometers every day and I have doubled my monthly earnings," Chinhete told Reuters, as she hauled home her wares.
Rural areas of the third-world are skipping over telephone lines completely and going straight to cell service, which requires less infrastructure per service area and per person. The testimony above shows that the technology immediately enhances quality of life, and as more people get connected the network effect will keep the benefits growing. Combined with ultra-low-cost computing, rural Africa may be able to leapfrog decades of development and have internet connectivity before electricity grids.