Fraser-Moleketi appointed OSS patron

Kimberly Guest
By Kimberly Guest, ITWeb contributor
Johannesburg, 10 Sept 2007

Public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi has accepted an invitation to become patron of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA).

At yesterday's Pretoria meeting, FOSSFA executives explained to Fraser-Moleketi that her support could help the organisation to gain access to her African counterparts.

FOSSFA's history dates back to the 2002 ICT Policy and Civil Society Workshop, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Its aim is to promote the use of free and open source software in education, health and government throughout the continent.

Making headway

In February, Cabinet approved a policy and strategy to implement open source software within government. It added that all new software developed for, or by government, would be based on open standards.

This policy was introduced by Fraser-Moleketi.

However, it is Fraser-Moleketi's contention that proprietary and open source software can co-exist within government structures.

Despite this position, FOSSFA believes she is the best spokesperson for open source on the continent.

Nigeria-based FOSSFA chairperson Nnenna Mwakanma explains: "FOSSFA is not an anti-Microsoft movement. It's about what the continent can do with open source software to make governments more transparent and improve its delivery of services."

She adds: "Government is the biggest actor in the IT environment. We need policies - such as the one driven by the honourable minister in SA - to be replicated in other African countries. Fraser-Moleketi can help us to achieve this. The experience of SA is needed for Africa."

OS challenge

Fraser-Moleketi says she is happy to lend her name and support to the foundation, but warns she alone cannot drive its objectives.

"I accept the nomination, but with the caveat that this team, this collective, make it work. When we, as Cabinet, adopted our open source policy, we caused a stir. There was strong lobbying from a particular player to get a revised interpretation or changes. This is the challenge we face," she explains.

"You are a small group that can make a change. We need a sea change. We need to demystify free and open source software, as well as open standards. We are at a Rubicon moment and we need to ensure we are true to the approach. Migration to open source cannot be a big bang, but must be consistent," she adds.

Fraser-Moleketi also challenged the FOSSFA executive to work towards the development of open standards.

"FOSSFA has the opportunity to shoot the opening volley in the diversification of public sector software. But this must be done with the likes of Microsoft. My own challenge is to ensure no one must claim to be threatened by this movement. We must be able to co-exist," she stressed.

If the continent is to demystify open source and open standards then the media must be challenged to do its part in spreading the information, she added.

"I warn you, I do not want to be a patron of a structure; I only accept this position on your assurances that this is a team focused on action and implementation."

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