Namec fight over digital TV in South Africa

A battle is brewing inside the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec), with two factions wrestling for control of the organisation.

Adil Nchabeleng and Professor Kunene, who refer to themselves as secretary general and deputy secretary general of Namec respectively, have levelled accusations of “massive fraud” against high-ranking members of the organisation: Keith Thabo and Vijay Panday.

Thabo refers to himself as president of Namec, but according to Kunene he was never legitimately elected.

“Mr Thabo [who was previously referred to as chairperson] suddenly changed his title one day without any consultation or resolution by the council,” Kunene said.

Panday is CEO of Namec Technologies (or Namec Electronics Manufacturing, according to a press release attributed to Nchabeleng).

“Massive fraud”

Speaking to MyBroadband about a strongly-worded press release issued in Namec’s name, Kunene said that they have proof of “a massive fraud scheme” perpetrated by Thabo and Panday.

According to Kunene, they have correspondence between Thabo and Panday concerning an “under-handed private deal” worth $51-million (US) to transfer Namec’s manufacture of decoder-like digital terrestrial television (DTT) set-top boxes (STBs) to China.

“These two individuals took a transaction which was set aside for Namec as an organisation and consummated a strategy which re-directed the transaction to themselves as primary beneficiaries,” a statement quoting Nchabeleng said.

This is in stark contrast to the last news we heard from Namec in this regard, which was that it had secured R60-million in loans and grants to build an STB factory in Durban.

Namec Technologies had partnered with Chinese manufacturer Skyworth Digital on the project, but Panday said, at the time, the Chinese company didn’t own any equity in the manufacturing plant.

Panday said that white-owned companies were not prepared to give them a share of the company, which is why they approached a partner from China.

Accusations and rebuttals

Asked to respond to the allegations, Thabo said they were unfounded, and that the “splinter group” making the accusations were not even members of Namec.

“Namec is still strong,” Thabo said.

According to Thabo, Nchabeleng was secretary general in 2009 and 2010, but had left the organisation, while he described Kunene as his former personal assistant (PA).

He added that Namec invited all its stakeholders to a council meeting earlier this week (Wednesday, 30 July 2014) where they explained how all these transactions were concluded and everyone seemed happy about it.

All the provincial chairpersons, as well as a number of other stakeholders, were present at the meeting, Thabo said.

“As I’m speaking to you I’m at parliament to explain the situation,” Thabo said.

Thabo went on to accuse the splinter group of “stealing information” from Namec by coping his e-mail inbox.

He said they will be handing the cases of industrial espionage and character assassination to law enforcement.

Thabo is lying: Kunene

Questioned about Thabo’s rebuttal, Kunene said that Thabo was lying.

Kunene said three of the five founding members of Namec had joined their group. The founding members, according to Kunene, were:

  • Keith Thabo, “now the self-styled president of Namec”
  • Adil Nchabeleng, “the last legitimately elected secretary general”
  • Thobeka Magcia
  • Kayise Nkosi, “who served as deputy chair”
  • Brian Jacobs, “who was treasurer, but distanced himself from the organisation and could not be contacted”

Mentioning that Thabo referred to him as his PA, Kunene laughed and said that while Thabo might have treated him like a PA, he was actually Namec’s provincial chair for KwaZulu-Natal.

He was co-opted into the role of deputy secretary-general and was granted access to Thabo’s e-mail inbox to send e-mail on his behalf.

“How could I then steal his e-mail?” Kunene said.

“I was sending e-mail on his behalf for the purpose of the organisation,” Kunene said. “There is no way I could steal something I had access to a long time ago.”

Kunene also suggested that Thabo had a habit of effectively ousting people from the organisation and co-opting others into their roles.

For instance, just like Kunene was co-opted as deputy secretary general, so the Mpumalanga chairperson was co-opted into the role of secretary general when Nchabeleng was sidelined.

Regarding the meeting on Wednesday where Thabo said everyone gave their approval of the transaction, Kunene said there were many Namec members who weren’t there.

“Mr Thabo and his group held a meeting and I was asked to sign an NDA. I could not sign that,” Kunene said.

At the very least the official KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga chairs were not there, he said, which means that Thabo had illegitimately replaced chairpeople on the spot for the council meeting.

Media will be invited to a press briefing next week Wednesday (6, August 2014), were they will be able to view the evidence for themselves.

Exact times and dates will be communicated in due course, Kunene said.

Digital TV fight in South Africa

Thabo went on to tell MyBroadband that he is not surprised at the backlash.

“It’s still part of the DTT war,” he said.

The war he is referring to is the conflict between rival factions on the issue of so-called “STB Control” encryption, or conditional access.

Among the features of STB Control that the SA government is in favour of, is being able to ensure that a decoder subsidised by the government is not used outside South Africa.

Households that currently receive their television signal through a normal roof antenna or “bunny ears” will have to get an STB and possibly replace their antenna.

The STB will convert the new digital TV signal into something that can be displayed on current analogue TVs (or other screens).

Namec, DStv, and the Association for Community TV are against conditional access, to the point where they took on former Minister Yunus Carrim in an “open letter” published in an advertisement in the Sunday papers earlier this year.

Members of the faction opposing Namec and DStv include E-tv and the South African Communications Forum.

Asked about this, Thabo said that they are not prepared to back off on conditional access.

He said they have done extensive research and found that “conditional access has never worked and will never work.”

Kunene said that Namec’s stance on conditional access is not something that was discussed with all members.

“All of us had questions on these things,” Kunene said, adding they are still trying to determine why Namec took the position it did on STB Control.

More on digital TV in South Africa

Digital TV in SA: “We dare not let our people down,” says minister

M-net fires salvo in digital TV battle

Digital TV battle – let’s cut the crap

Give us free, unencrypted digital TV now

Digital TV in SA: no encryption needed, says Cabinet

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Namec fight over digital TV in South Africa