Gosai, who is also from Durban, was among 180,000 people who unloaded Zello after Zuma’s arrest. Users subscribe to the channels to talk to each other, sending live audio files that are accessible to anyone listening on 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 transmit their situation, share tips, and communicate with rescuers or survivors after a hurricane, flood, or other emergency. In the United States, Zello found traction in 2017‘s Hurricane Harvey rescue efforts. The app is also being used by taxi drivers, ambulance workers, and delivery personnel who want to send voice messages hands-free, according to Raphael Varieras, Zello’s vice president of operations, he says. Because Zello is a first-rate platform, it is faster to write and does not require literacy skills.
But recent events suggest that the use of Zello is increasingly used to connect people in areas of agitation as well. Within hours of the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, downloads have increased to 100 times their usual rate, for example. And Cuba has also seen an increase in discharges amid protests over the lack of food and medicine. Unsurprisingly, this development has prompted some countries to ban the app, including China, Venezuela and Syria.
Without a formal emergency response system such as the U.S. 911, South Africans are increasingly turning to Zello to coordinate ad hoc ambulances and neighborhood patrols. One channel, South Africa Community Action Network, boasts 11,600 paying members who donate for emergency services such as ambulances, with more than 33,000 non-paying members, according to a blog post on the site.