Zuma going full circle – from apartheid telecoms and back

On 25 May 2014, President Jacob Zuma announced that he has established a ministry of telecommunications and postal services.

Zuma said that the aim of the new ministry was to get more value out of the telecommunications sector. He added that the communications department had been reconfigured to include more functions.

Back to pre-1994 communications structure

Unbeknownst to many people, Zuma returned to the structure used under the apartheid government, which had a Department of Communications and a Department of Post and Telecommunications.

The cabinet of FW de Klerk, which ran South Africa from 16 August 1989 to 11 May 1994, had Roelf Meyer as minister of communications and Piet Welgemoed as minister of post and telecommunication.

Zuma’s decision to go back to the pre-1994 structure is seen as a mistake by many commentators – and they have a point.

In South Africa, telecommunications services were operated by the South African Post Office until 1991. It therefore made sense to combine telecommunications and postal services into one ministry.

However, Telkom became a public company in 1991, which meant that it started to operate independently from the SA Post Office.

Over the last two decades, the telecoms world underwent massive changes, and the services offered and the operations of telecoms companies are now very different from the post office. In fact, they have very little to do with each other.

It therefore makes no sense to combine the telecommunications sector with the SA Post Office, which is basically a logistics and banking company.

Industry confusion over new ministry

The DA’s Marian Shinn said that putting telecommunications and postal services into one ministry seems a backward move into the pre-convergence days of the Department of Posts and Telecommunications of the old South Africa.

“This is absurd and undermines the moves towards convergence introduced via the Electronic Communication Act (ECAct),” said Shinn. “I fail to see the logic of these moves.”

Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions director Dominic Cull said that it is not clear how the two Ministries will interact. “All-in-all this does not feel like a positive move for communications in South Africa,” said Cull.

Communications ministries
Communications ministries

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Zuma going full circle – from apartheid telecoms and back