Free digital TV decoders – Who qualifies, and how to get it

South Africans who want to watch the SABC and eTV’s free-to-air channels can get a free digital decoder from the government to access these channels once analogue broadcasts have been switched off.

The SABC recently started displaying a scrolling notice on broadcasts that still use its old analogue TV signals which informs viewers that they must register for a free digital terrestrial TV (DTT) decoder at their nearest Post Office.

“The main purpose of this message is to alert the public about the impending analogue switch off and the need to change to alternative digital technologies for television viewing,” the SABC said in a statement.

“This is in keeping with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement during this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), wherein he stated that all analogue transmissions will be switched off by April 2022.”

The message reads:

Important notice: If you see this message go to your nearest Post Office to register for a free government subsidised decoder or call 0860 736 832 to continue receiving a television broadcast.

It only appears on analogue television broadcasts on not on any of the SABC’s digital platforms (satellite, DTT, and streaming), the SABC said.

The government plans to switch South Africa to digital television broadcasts by April 2022.  You will then need a set-top box to continue watching TV with your current television set.

The decoder supports much better picture quality and a bigger choice of television channels.

Following the message being displayed to analogue TV viewers, Post Offices country wide have recorded a dramatic increase in members of the public who want to apply for the digital decoders.

It should be noted that only South African households that depend on SASSA social grants and those with a monthly income of less than R3,200 qualify for a free decoder.

They must also have a functioning TV set and a television licence.

Households earning more than R3,200 per month are expected to purchase their own decoders or STBs.

Government advised applicants to bring along the following to the Post Office when they register for a subsidised set-top box:

  • Proof of the family’s income.
  • Proof of identity – Only South African citizens qualify.
  • Proof of address – Your address is captured on the system so that installers later know where to install your subsidised set-top box.
  • A police affidavit to state that you have a working TV set.

The set of analogue TV switch-off dates announced in March 2021 by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams were:

  • Free State – March 2021
  • Northern Cape – April 2021
  • North West – May 2021
  • Mpumalanga – May 2021
  • Eastern Cape – May 2021
  • Kwa-Zulu Natal – July 2021
  • Western Cape – November 2021
  • Limpopo – December 2021
  • Gauteng – January 2022

These dates were published after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address in which he said that the digital migration would be completed by the end of March 2022.

MyBroadband contacted the Ministry to find out about the progress towards these deadlines, as the South African government has yet to meet a single deadline it set for the digital migration.

The Ministry could not answer questions about whether the migrations in the Free State and Northern Cape were completed.

“There is significant progress thus far within the schedule,” a spokesperson told MyBroadband. “The Minister will soon provide an update on the progress achieved.”

Now read: MultiChoice’s broken GOtv website says everything you should know about digital TV in South Africa

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Free digital TV decoders – Who qualifies, and how to get it