Why we want to bring Richard Stallman to South Africa and you should too

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Since starting the Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to bring Richard Stallman (RMS) out to speak at Software Freedom Day events in South Africa this year I have been asked many questions by people which can be categorised into one of three groups.

First there are the enthusiastic free software supporters who want to know if the event is genuine. To this group I respond its as real as you make it. The Software Freedom Day Organising committee, and community groups, need your support; not only financially, but to help organise the event and for you to attend the event en masse to help build the free software movement in South Africa.

Secondly, there is the group of free software supporters who, in typical South African fashion, think it’s a waste of time. After all, why would RMS be interested in talking in South Africa? No-one will listen anyway. A quintessential, “it-will-never-work”, South African attitude. As South Africans we often believe that we are on the periphery; that we have no role to play, nor anything of significance to contribute to shape the world and events around us. This attitude is self-fulfilling, its time for South Africans to realise we do have an impact, not only on our own destiny but also globally. The world economy stands in ruins, our society has many challenges, and our privacy is threatened. Surely these are issues which should galvanise even the most recalcitrant individual to action?

The third group of people are those who want to know what we hope to achieve by bringing out RMS to talk. Generally they are non-plussed about free software and why it is important for South Africa. Most are are aware of the four principles of free software namely: the freedom to run a programme, the freedom make changes to the programme, the freedom to redistribute copies of the software and the freedom to redistribute modified copies of the software; but what they do no understand is why this is important.

Our argument

There are many reasons why free software is important, not only for South Africa but the world and here are just two of them.

From a practical point of view free software is important for any developing country if they wish to become creators and exporters of technology rather than mere importers and users of technology. Solutions developed by integrating or customising proprietary software means that the lion share of costs are repatriated from developing nations to developed nations.

It reduces us to mere users of software. It creates a dependency on developed nations for on-going innovation and gives control over the direction of any solution to corporates who may not have the same objectives as us. Being able to take existing code, modify it and use it for our own purposes, and build our own solutions changes this relationship. It will allow South Africa to develop our own IT industry and workforce who can create the solutions we need.

Another reason free software is important; in the post-Snowden era it’s not longer a far-fetched paranoia to wonder how we are to compete economically, or negotiate fair trade deals, with nations who have the ability to gather information at will via back-doors in proprietary software or cloud services, about your country’s government and strategic industries.

Maybe it’s not just bad luck that your major industries can’t seem to compete? With free software we can examine the code and be sure it is free from any back-doors and can fix any security vulnerabilities that might exist.

Free software, like human rights, is not just an expedience. It is an ethical issue about what rights and obligations a user and creator of software has. It protects individuals and groups from exploitation and abuse of power by owners of software.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything Richard Stallman has to say, but I do hope people will at least get a better understanding of free software and the role it can play in helping South Africa address its many challenges and provide a brighter future for all.

What is Software Freedom Day?

SFD is a worldwide celebration of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Our goal in this celebration is to educate the worldwide public about the benefits of using high quality FOSS in education, in government, at home, and in business — in short, everywhere! (taken from SFD wiki)

When is Software Freedom Day?

Johannesburg is planning SFD for the 7th September 2013. Stallman will be talking in Pretoria, Cape Town and, hopefully Durban. Dates still to be announced. If there is anyone from Cape Town and Durban who would like to help organise please contact the SFD committee.

Who is Richard Stallman?


How can you help?

If you would like to help us please contribute to our Indiegogo campaign to raise money for RMS flight to South Africa.

Who wrote this?

Mark Clarke is a FOSS community leader from Johannesburg and is a founding member of the Jozi JUG, Jozi LUG , Jozi H4H and HTML 5 developer group. He is a member of the Software Freedom Day 2013 organising committee. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of htxt.africa.