In leaked diplomatic cables marked as “for official use only,” reported to originate from the US embassy in Pretoria, the former leadership of the South African Department of Communications (DoC) is criticised for hampering SA telecommunications.
In one document, the DoC leadership under the late Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri is said to have thwarted independence at ICASA (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) as well as slowed down the implementation of projects that would increase competition in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.
Industry analysts had high hopes for the incoming Minister of Communications, but were perplexed by the appointment of Siphiwe Nyanda, a former army general with no ICT background, the cable said.
A separate cable, detailing a “luncheon discussion” which happened on 25 September 2009 between Ambassador Donald Gips and “leading executives” of US information and communication technology (ICT) companies AT&T, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, said that leadership shortfalls under Matsepe-Casaburri have hurt the sector.
This is because other ministries, with Alec Irwin’s Department of Public Enterprises highlighted as a more “activist minister,” have jumped in, confused the issues, and created unnecessary bureaucracy and parastatal organisations, the cable reports the executives as saying.
The cable added that Erwin launched several initiatives, specifically mentioning state-owned fibre optic cable operator Broadband Infraco which by September 2009 had not got off the ground.
According to the cable, the lunch participants further argued that the appointment of Siphiwe Nyanda was purely political and a lost opportunity to improve leadership in the sector.
Nyanda had no ICT expertise and the Zuma administration was bound by the African National Congress (ANC) to appoint him to a Ministry, the cable said, adding that the DoC was the only portfolio in which he did not have any business ties or other conflicts of interest.
Siphiwe Nyanda was eventually axed as communications minister in October 2010 amid allegations of tender irregularities and a heated battle with his former director-general Mamodupi Mohlala.
His successor, Radhakrishna “Roy” Padayachie, has received a far warmer welcome from South Africa’s ICT industry and has fostered some goodwill with a series of ICT discussion events.
It will be interesting to see how much talk is translated to action, as Padayachie has set some ambitious goals for his ministry, including but not limited to:
- Completing Local Loop Unbundling (LLU) by November 2011
- Beginning migration from analogue to digital TV broadcasting by April 2012
- Completing digital migration by December 2013
- Creation of a million additional, sustainable jobs in ICT by 2020
- Broadband for all by 2020 (with the definition of “broadband” possibly amended to be 2Mbps download speeds)
AT&T, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Qualcomm were asked for comment, but these companies did not respond by the time of publication.