Many people who depended on free internet access in public libraries in Eastern Cape say they have been struggling since last year, when the service stopped. The National Library of South Africa and later the Eastern Cape department of sport, recreation, arts and culture used to pay for the service.
Many library users, especially high school learners and students, say they cannot afford the high costs of data and the fees charged by internet cafes.
Abongiwe Sayman, a matric learner in Motherwell, said, "I used to be the best in my grade when the free internet service was available at the library. I am now struggling with my work. I am afraid I will fail my final examination."
Noluthando Thondlana, who frequents the Uitenhage library, said in the past she used the library computers and the free internet access. "Internet cafes charge anything between R15 and R20 an hour," she said. As she does not have a laptop, she is also charged for the time she spends typing up her assignment on the cafe's computer, even if she isn't using the internet. Thondlana is trying to complete a diploma in transport management by correspondence.
Sabawu Mlanjeni from Motherwell is studying for a degree in public management through a Cape Town university. He said the librarians had been helpful and showed him how to do new things on the internet. "I wish the municipality would bring back the service again."
The municipality does offer free internet through Always On, but only 100MB per day and only on a personal laptop or mobile phone.
"Many people don't have computers, and most of the work needs a computer not a cellphone. And the data bundles get quickly used up," said Mlanjeni.
Spokesperson for the Eastern Cape department of sport, recreation, arts and culture Andile Nduna said: "The department is in the process of finalising the contract for a new tender to supply free internet to all the province's  libraries. This should be done by the beginning of June this year."