The strange choice of communications ministers

South Africa’s Department of Communications has been struggling for years with infighting, poor performance and being implicated in questionable financial affairs. The answer may lie in the leadership choices from government for the minister of communications.

A newspaper report surfaced on 10 February 2013 suggesting that Communications Minister Dina Pule is set to be fired by President Jacob Zuma following reports of alleged corruption.

The Presidency later dismissed the report, saying that “the rumour and speculation are mischievous and will not distract government from the main activity this coming week, the State of the Nation Address by the President”.

Pule is the fourth communications minister in the last four years, raising questions about the suitability of candidates selected to lead the Department of Communications.

The Department of Communications is tasked with creating policies related to technical matters such as spectrum allocation, broadcasting standards, and telecoms regulation.

Without at least some experience in the telecoms field, a new minister can easily be overwhelmed by the complexities of the telecoms industry.

This in turn can lead to a lack of decisiveness and progress from the DoC, and even decisions which can harm the industry as a whole.

Some of the communications ministers have been described as political appointments rather than being based on merit. A good way to ascertain if this is true is to look at their experience in the field.

The following list provides an overview of the communications ministers over the last decade, which shows a major void when it comes to telecoms and communications experience.

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri hugged by former Telkom chairperson Nomazizi Mshotshisa
Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri hugged by former Telkom chairperson Nomazizi Mshotshisa
  • Appointed: June 1999
  • Previous communications experience: SABC chairperson, Sentech chairperson
  • Telecoms or related technical qualifications before appointment: None (BA, MA and PhD in Sociology)
  • Left position: 6 April 2009 (when she died)
  • Position held for: 10 years

Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri’s tenure as communications minister was best known for her policies of managed liberalisation, which provided Telkom with a monopoly in the fixed telecoms market.

Many analysts argue that this policy, which prevented effective telecoms competition in South Africa, hurt the country’s telecoms industry and the economy as a whole.

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (Acting)

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
  • Appointed: 6 April 2009
  • Previous communications experience: None (BA, MD, Master of Public Health)
  • Telecoms or related technical qualifications before appointment: None
  • Left position: 10 May 2009
  • Position held for: 1 month

Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was not at the Department of Communications for long enough to have much of an impact.

Siphiwe Nyanda

Siphiwe Nyanda
Siphiwe Nyanda
  • Appointed: 10 May 2009
  • Previous communications experience: None
  • Telecoms or related technical qualifications before appointment: None (MSc Financial Management, BA)
  • Left position: 31 October 2010
  • Position held for: 18 months

Siphiwe Nyanda’s time at the Department of Communication was best known for his spat with his Director General Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi. Mohlala-Mulaudzi was fired as communications DG, which resulted in an ugly battle between the minister and his former DG.

Nyanda also made headlines for spending thousands on luxury hotels (instead of living in his official residence) and for treating himself to a pair of German luxury cars soon after taking office.

Nyanda was further linked to a company which was allegedly unlawfully awarded a R67.8 million tender by the Gauteng roads and transport department.

Roy Padayachie

Roy Padayachie
Roy Padayachie
  • Appointed: 1 November 2010
  • Previous communications experience: Deputy Minister of Communications (29 April 2004 to 10 May 2009)
  • Telecoms or related technical qualifications before appointment: None (Master of Science – Agricultural Economics, Bachelor of Science – Chemistry and Microbiology)
  • Left position: 24 October 2011
  • Position held for: 12 months

Padayachie was widely seen as the best communications minister over the last decade, partly because of his understanding of the industry.

Curiously, Padayachie was moved away from the communications portfolio only year after he had taken office.

Dina Pule

Dina Pule
Dina Pule
  • Appointed: 24 October 2011 – current
  • Previous communications experience: Deputy Minister of Communications (10 May 2009 to 31 October 2010)
  • Telecoms or related technical qualifications before appointment: None (BA in Communications)
  • Left position: Still in position
  • Position held for: 15 months to date

Dina Pule is best known for the ICT Indaba, where she is accused of making sure that her partner Phosane Mngqibisa allegedly benefited to the tune of millions from the event.

Industry players have also expressed concern over the slow progress in handing out scarce spectrum, and for the delay in the migration to Digital TV.

More Department of Communications articles

Zuma to fire Dina Pule: report

R6 million to communication minister’s boyfriend: report

How not to blow R102 million

Communications minister Dina Pule accused of nepotism

DoC speaks about ICT Indaba finances

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The strange choice of communications ministers