Starlink’s dodgy Zimbabwe approval raises big questions over South African launch delay

Starlink gaining approval in Zimbabwe by working through a company linked to a convicted fraudster has raised questions about the Elon Musk-owned satellite Internet service’s reluctance to launch in South Africa over supposed regulatory concerns.

Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa announced he had approved Starlink in an X post on 25 May 2024.

“I’m pleased to announce that I have approved the licensing of Starlink by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe to provide advanced Internet and related digital processing services in Zimbabwe through its sole and exclusive local partner, IMC Communications,” Mnangagwa wrote.

The announcement came months after Zimbabwe began to clamp down on Starlink roaming usage among its citizens, with POTRAZ and police arresting and fining people found in possession of the kits.

Similar to the situation in South Africa, many people had been using Starlink on roaming packages with registered addresses in African countries where the service had officially launched — including Mozambique and Zambia.

Both countries border Zimbabwe, making smuggling Starlink kits into the country easier.

The official approval of Starlink will likely be welcomed by those desperate for better Internet connectivity, including some who had to bribe border guards to get their kits into Zimbabwe.

However, some Zimbabweans have expressed concern with Starlink working through IMC Communications, an unknown company whose website showed it shared an office with Intratek Zimbabwe at 53 Samora Machel Avenue in Harare.

Intratek is run by controversial businessman and socialite Wicknell Chivhayo, which several news outlets in Zimbabwe reported also owns IMC Communications.

Chivayo is infamous in Zimbabwe for his quick rise to wealth and lavish lifestyle.

Before jumping into lucrative tenders with the ZANU-PF government, he was charged with fraud of R837,000 and sentenced to five years in a maximum security prison in Zimbabwe in 2004.

With two years conditionally set aside, he got out of jail three years later and got involved in energy project tenders.

Controversial Zimbabwean businessman Wicknell Chivayo is known to boast about his wealth on social media.

Regardless of Chivayo’s reputation and his close links to the government, Starlink’s apparent use of IMC Communications deviates from its typical direct business model.

The company normally works directly with customers for their orders, billing, and support.

The compromise in Zimbabwe might raise eyebrows among South Africans hoping for an official Starlink launch.

While it remains unconfirmed, it has been speculated that Starlink’s launch delay in South Africa could be attributed to the Electronic Communications Act’s requirement that all telecoms licensees be 30% owned by historically disadvantaged groups.

Another pending rule requiring licensees to be 30% black-owned is also hanging over the industry’s head, creating regulatory uncertainty.

However, experienced telecoms insiders have told MyBroadband that Starlink could easily launch in South Africa by distributing its service through an Internet service provider (ISP) that already has the necessary licencing.

The partner will have to profit from the agreement, which could raise Starlink’s prices for end-users.

MyBroadband asked Starlink’s parent company, SpaceX, for further details on its approval in Zimbabwe, but it had not responded by the time of publication.

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Starlink’s dodgy Zimbabwe approval raises big questions over South African launch delay