Data is a human right: Launch of the #keepconnecting campaign

“COVID has transformed our world in many profound ways and everyone is experiencing it in their own unique ways. It has exposed to us more sharply the inequalities and fault lines within our society, and one of the most glaring is access to resources. The one resource that has become most precious is about accessibility and the need to stay connected.”

So said Inyathelo Board Chairperson Russell Ally, introducing the zoom launch of Inyathelo’s #keepconnecting campaign to raise funds for data for non-profit organisations. (Thursday 13 August).

Data is a human right: Launch of the #keepconnecting campaign

“One of the most important currencies in the pandemic is data, to stay connected. If you lack access to the internet or data, then you are cut off and doubly disadvantaged – by the pandemic itself and technological inequalities,” said Russell, stating that at the heart of this campaign is the drive to ensure that non-profit organisations can stay connected and continue their work.

“Data is access to knowledge and Inyathelo is a knowledge-based organisation… not only the privileged should have access,” said Inyathelo Executive Director Nazeema Mohamed, pointing out that “it’s been a team effort to get to this point today and we hope it will grow from strength to strength.”

Nazeema introduced two #keepconnecting Inyathelo champions who are passionate about the campaign:

  • - Journalist and broadcaster Karima Brown, known for her courage and commitment to social justice and speaking truth to power.
  • - Theatre director, educator, therapist and activist Warren Nebe and his super-talented team of five healers. This formidable team showcases the power of theatre and drama in speaking for the voiceless, through playback theatre, authenticity, and deep respect for the people whose stories they tell.

The two champions shared their reasons for joining the campaign:

Recalling somewhat nostalgically the community-based activist meetings in homes and church halls she took part in, in her early 20s, Karima said: “The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, but because of levels of exclusion and inequality, many people cannot compete, let alone excel.”

Warren shared his awareness of how many creative artists are struggling to survive, as are NPOs and community-based organisation. He explained that playback theatre is a means to begin a dialogue: “This is a moment for us to hear your stories.”

Warren and the five healers provided an extraordinary performance and therapeutic space for discussing social change and human behaviour. Sthe Khali, Pertunia Msani, Moeketsi Kgotle and Luthando Jamda had the audience entranced, with Bongile Lecoge-Zulu’s complementary music revealing the dissonance, fear, tiredness, frustration, scattered thoughts and other emotions experienced by participants. We heard:

  • -“I struggle with the contradiction between being socially distant while trying to stay connected.”
  • -“When I can’t see someone I get a bit stressed.”
  • -“I felt cold, it had little to do with the temperature of the office, but the fact that there was room for 50 people, but there were only seven, all with doors closed. It’s just a weird feeling of disconnection speaking to someone metres away, through the window of a car.”
  • -“It’s like we all live in one house feeling a great sense of loss. One wonders how those who don’t have families around them, are surviving.”
  • -It’s loss of my being, you can’t get love when you need it.”
  • -“Dealing with death has become the new normal. When someone dies I pray for a while and then revert to normality. This is so surprising and different compared to experiences in my youth.”

Karima spoke of “mass trauma” and the importance of mental health. Trauma is sometimes displayed as lethargy, commented Warren: “We could make a huge difference to people’s lives if they just had data. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt stories in a time that is confusing.”

Soraya Joonas, Finance Director of Inyathelo, commented: “This new normal is abnormal, and our feelings are a normal response to these abnormal conditions. It is right that we feel these intense, often contradictory feelings.” Soraya spoke about family, friends and colleagues, what matters most… “the value of touch reverberates something deep and meaningful in us as humans,”

Operations Director Feryal Domingo said she had a better understanding of the lockdown situation having heard others’ stories and learning about the pain they are going through too. “Seeing the theatre playback of what you are feeling is not how we normally address emotion – usually we just carry on – but watching the playback was quite something.”

In a discussion led by Karima, it was shared that the lack of WiFi at hospitals means people use health workers’ cellphones as this is the only way they can communicate with ‒ and possibly say goodbye to ‒ their loved ones before they pass on. Sometimes those hospital workers don’t themselves have data.

While we may go out in the evenings and clap for health workers, we should rather push for access to data so they can be in touch with their families in a safe way. Data was seen as a luxury but it has become an essential way to function in the world as it currently exists.

Data enables us to end the disconnection because of the physical distancing we are experiencing.” Participants agreed: “Data has become a currency”; “Access to date is a human right that needs this campaign.”

Cara Loening, who works with children in the deaf community, described how the sector had missed out on months of learner education, especially as learning sign language requires a lot of data.

The youngest donor to date is Salia Joonas, who was planning an “epic” 11th birthday party, which was cancelled due to the pandemic. She decided to have a Zoom party. Normally Salia would treat her friends to party packs, but they agreed to donate this money to less privileged children who can’t learn online or see their friends. She then played an inspiring “jazz piece for data”!

Feryal shared a staff video and words of support from Board members and added: “I want to ask all of you to help us share these videos because it will be so important to get this campaign to a state where it goes viral.”

Nazeema encouraged more people to make videos: “The point is not to take yourself too seriously and have some fun, we encourage you to make your own video. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, no-one else will.”

Karima closed with inspiring words: “We want to mainstream this conversation and show how the expense of data makes it hard for people to connect. We want people to be self-sufficient. Figure out your unique way in which you can strengthen this campaign.”


Link to the campaign on backabuddy: https://www.backabuddy.co.za/champion/project/kc 

Link to the campaign on the Inyathelo website, including video featuring Inyathelo staff members. https://www.inyathelo.org.za/keepconnecting.html 

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