Zello keeps people up to date during the unrest in South Africa


Gosai, who is also from Durban, was among the 180,000 people who took over Zello after Zuma’s arrest. Users subscribe to channels to talk to each other, sending live audio files that are available to anyone listening to the channel.

Zello was originally designed to help people communicate and organize after natural disasters. With Wi-Fi or a data connection, people can use it to broadcast their location, share tips, and communicate with rescuers or survivors after a hurricane, flood, or other emergency. In the US Zello found traction in 2017‘s Hurricane Harvey Rescue Generations. The app is also used by taxi drivers, ambulance workers and delivery people who want to send voice messages without the use of hands, says Raphael Varieras, Zell’s vice president of operations. Because Zello is a speech platform, it is faster than typing and does not require literacy skills.

But recent events suggest that the use of Zello is increasingly being used to connect people in areas of unrest. Within hours of the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, takeovers have risen sharply to a hundred times their usual rate, for example. Cuba has also seen a large increase in takeovers amid protests over food and medicine shortages. Not surprisingly, this development has forced some countries to ban the application, including China, Venezuela and Syria.

Without a formal emergency response system like the U.S. 911, South Africans are increasingly turning to Zell to coordinate ad hoc ambulances and neighborhood patrols. One channel, the South African Community for Action, boasts 11,600 paying members who donate to emergency services such as ambulances, along with more than 33,000 non-paying members, according to blog post on the site.

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