One of the big stories of the week, which did not get much coverage, was one that would have been funny if it was not so very sad.

It had to do with the fact that 85% of parliamentarians are not computer literate. This means that only 15% of our elected leaders know how to operate a computer.

Apparently all parliamentarians have laptops or computers but many of them have never taken them out of their boxes because they don’t even know how to switch them on. So you have unused new computers sitting in boxes in offices all over Parliament.

I heard this bit of news on CapeTalk on Wednesday but have not seen it reported anywhere else.

Apparently House Chairperson Obed Bapela has now organised group training sessions, starting in July, to teach MPs how to use computers.

According to CapeTalk, Bapela said that for those “embarrassed by their computer literacy, private sessions can be arranged”.

It is hoped that after the training, all our MPs will then be able to engage with their constituents on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.

On second thought, maybe our MPs should remain computer illiterate because I don’t know if I want to be bombarded by friend requests from MPs on Facebook.

Seriously though, I wonder why it took so long to identify this as a problem and whether this was also a problem under previous administrations. Or are this lot of MPs just not very bright?

In today’s world, one cannot survive unless you are computer literate. I’m not saying that everyone should be on social networking sites, but to not even know how to switch on your computer is pretty bad for a public representative.

Operating a computer is a basic life-skill in the world today, like being able to type, drive or cook for yourself.

So how do MPs communicate with their constituents if, I have to assume, they don’t even know how to use email? Do they still use snail mail (which very few people use nowadays) or do they still use faxes (which very few people use nowadays).

Our MPs can argue that they are keeping in touch with the people, who do not have access to tools such as computers. But so many poor people are techno savvy nowadays because of their exposure to cellphones, on which they access the internet and even emails.

Of course, the opposition will probably argue that the 85% consists mainly or solely of ANC MPs. However, the ANC does not have an 85% majority in Parliament. In fact, they do not even have a two-thirds majority. So it stands to reason that these computer illiterate MPs are probably spread across political parties.

I don’t know if the July classes will help but at least it will force MPs to open their PC or laptop boxes. Getting to use them on a regular basis, I fear, is going to take a little bit more effort.

We can only hope that, if the media decide to check up same time next year, that the number of computer literate MPs would have considerably gone up. I suppose we can only live in hope.


  • Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is executive chairperson of the Cape Town Festival, which he initiated while editor of the Cape Times in 1999 as part of the One City Many Cultures project. He received an international media award for this project in New York in October 2006. His personal motto is "bringing people together", which was the theme of One City Many Cultures. It remains the theme of the Cape Town Festival and is the theme of Race. Ryland has worked in and with government, in the media for more than 25 years, in the corporate sector, in NGOs and in academia. Ultimately, however, he describes himself as "just a souped-up writer".


Ryland Fisher

Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is...

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