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Zello keeps an eye on people in South Africa’s unrest

Gosai, also from Durban, was among the 180,000 people who unloaded Zello after Zosa’s arrest. Users subscribe to the channels to talk to each other by sending live audio files available to anyone who listens to the channel.

Zello was originally designed to help people communicate and organize after natural disasters. With a Wi-Fi or 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 Efforts to rescue Hurricane Harvey. Taxi drivers, ambulance staff and distribution staff who want to send hands-free voice messages also use the app, says Raphael Varieras, vice president of operations at Zello. As Zello is a voice platform, it is faster than writing and requires no literacy skills.

But recent events suggest that the use of Zello is increasingly being used to connect people even in unrest. In the wake of the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, downloads have risen 100 times the usual rate, for example. Cuba also saw a sharp rise in landfills amid protests over food and medicine shortages. Not surprisingly, this development has led some countries to ban the application, including China, Venezuela and Syria.

Without a formal emergency response system like the 911 in the U.S., more and more South Africans are moving to Zello to coordinate ad hoc ambulances and neighborhood patrols. One channel, the South African Community Action Network, pays 11,600 members for emergency services such as ambulances, along with more than 33,000 unpaid members, blog post on the site.


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