Have you ever wondered how South Africa got connected to the Internet? It happened during the bleak days of apartheid, thanks to the valiant efforts of self-proclaimed hippie Randy Bush:
I suppose you are wondering what a computer scientist, engineer, and unrepentant hippie is doing at this lectern today. Well, I am also wondering the same. So I guess the best I can do with this honor and opportunity is to tell you about why I chose to do certain things and the small but occasionally pungent lessons I have taken away from these experiences.
Not everyone was willing to break the boycott in those days, but Bush had his reasons:
Well, I had been raised to boycott all dealings with South Africa, as well as Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, and other international pariah states. And I was being asked to directly support South Africa’s entry into the internet. Serious soul-searching led me to the conclusion that social change was not likely to be accomplished by cutting off communication. So I agreed on the condition that connectivity would be for universities and NGOs only, and only those which were not apartheid-supporting or enforcing. The administrative work and funding from the South African side was done by Vic Shaw of the FRD. In November 1991, a bit over ten years ago, the first direct full internet connectivity to South Africa (as opposed to store and forward email) was commissioned via a low speed leased line to my home office in the States. South Africa was the second country in Africa to become connected to the internet, preceded by Tunisia a few months earlier.
That’s quite an interesting legacy. Currently, Bush works for the Japanese government and as a volunteer with various non-profits.
UPDATE: Reader Andrew Alston says the credit doesn’t properly fall on Bush:
Randy Bush might have been involved, but he is DEFINITELY not the father of the South African internet, if that title goes to anyone its Mike Lauwrie from back in the Rhodes University days.
There you are, two points of view from which to choose.