This interview in the Sunday Times with Communications Director-General Lyndall Shope-Mafole is pretty much indicative of why the state of telecommunications in SA is so dire and why the DoC tries to prevent South African and international companies from investing in telecommunications.
“Part of that promotion is to say, ‘Okay guys, you people want to come and invest here. All we are saying is that you have got to have South African private sector involvement’.”
But isn’t there already local involvement, including by Telkom and MTN, in the Eassy cable?
“Yes, but I mean African private sector involvement as well. We are saying that we want to support our continental, as well as our South African, private companies in investing in the submarine cable.
“And here we have difficulties. Because, you know, the globe is basically based on a capitalist system. Those who have more money are able to make more money.”She embarked on a rambling and not-to- be-interrupted economics lecture, but, to cut a very long story short, her objections boiled down to South African companies doing better out of Eassy cable than other African companies.
You know last time I checked she was the DG of Communications for South Africa, not for Ethiopia. Why would any SA based telecoms company do any business with the DoC if they don’t have the best interests for SA companies at the fore.As to why Shope-Mafole hasn’t been fired/reprimanded for the terrible job she’s doing, well I believe this excerpt from the interview might explain that:
Current reading: Busy with a third reading of ‘Fit to Govern’ by Ronald Suresh Roberts
No doubt it’s an autographed copy (both Roberts and The Chief).
Update: No need to worry about the rest of Africa Lyndall, they’re doing just fine without you.
The Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Amendment Bill (RICA) was passed by the National Assembly yesterday. We’ve spoken about this law before. It is quite simply one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed by government.
It’s intended purpose is to fight crime by registering every cellphone SIM card in use in the country. That’s at least 30 million cellphones of which I would bet 70% are pre-paid users although I would not be surprised if that percentage is higher. And it needs to be done within a year, which is close to impossible.
Any criminal with two brain cells to rub together will be able to circumvent this law in about 5 minutes. All it takes is a street person with a valid ID book and a bottle of cheap brandy. That of course assumes that said criminal does not have a fake ID in the first place. Meanwhile every other citizen in this country will have to register their phone or risk being cut off.
The terrible thing about this law is that millions of the poor and disadvantaged in South Africa rely on cellular telephones as their primary telecommunications means mainly due to Telkom refusing to service low income and rural areas, in contravention of their licensing agreement (but that’s a whole other story). If they are cut off it just makes their lives increasingly difficult. Who is going to employ you when you don’t have a reliable means of contact?
What’s really going to make the enforcement of this law really fun is that tourists and foreigners will have to register SIM cards in phones they bring into the country and because we use a GSM network a large chunk of European tourists bring their own phones when they visit. What’s better than standing in a half hour line at customs? Why standing in another 30 minute line to register your phone straight afterwards. With the volumes of people expected in 2010 for the World Cup there are going to be some flaring tempers at OR Tambo International Airport.
This law really is stupid and I have a hard time believing it will have any affect on crime. Actually scratch that, I know it will not have any effect.
Readers of this blog will be familiar with our constant harping on the dire situation of telecommunications in South Africa. After Telkom was semi-privatised and a chunk sold to a consortium including US telco SBC Communications (now AT&T, whose name it took when it acquired it). Telkom was given a 5 year monopoly (which has become a defacto 14 year monopoly at the very least) in exchange for providing telecommunications service to under serviced areas, which they never did.
After Telkom’s legislated 5 year monopoly was up SBC sold their stock for a massive profit, packed their bags and South Africa has been struggling with a complete messed up telecoms industry ever snice.
And that’s probably because the Telecommunications Act which set up our current environment was written with the help of SBC to ensure they made profit before they did the ol’ cut and run.
In an interview with the authors last year, Myers explained that when it became clear that SBC would secure the Telkom stake, “the company temporarily transferred its entire San Antonio [Texas] corporate office legislative team to South Africa to help draft the Telecommunications Act, to make sure the legislation comported with the company’s requirements”.
Myers told Horwitz and Currie that SBC’s strategy was very clear: “Maximise the value of Thintana’s investment during Telkom’s five-year exclusivity period and then exit quickly.”
I can’t help but think the ANC got taken for a complete ride by SBC (and probably then decided to get in on the act when Andile Ngcaba and his Elephant Consortium saw the massive profits Telkom was making) and our lethargic Communication Dept and toothless regulator ICASA have been unable, or unwilling, to do anything about it.
Parliament’s legal advisers believe that the proposed Film And Publication Amendment Bill (which we’ve covered before) is unconstitutional. Hopefully this will stop this idiotic piece of legislation from being passed but there’s always the chance the ANC will push this through parliament to be rubberstamped into law.
This law is as stupid as the RICA Amendment Bill (which I haven’t seen any activity over in almost a year). They both need to go into the legislative dustbin.
In the past on this blog we’ve called for cabinet ministers in charge of non-performing departments to be dismissed. The Business Day Weekender echoed those sentiments in this weeks editorial where they opine over the fact that any hope that Thabo Mbeki might be leaving a distinguished legacy is being diminished by the day because he won’t fire useless cabinet ministers.
Ministries identified by The Weekender as being detrimental to Mbeki’s legacy
All of these could stall SA’s development and destroy Mbeki’s legacy. It is now easy to forget that when Mbeki took the reins in June 1999, his popular nickname was Mr Delivery. Eight years later, it is impossible to attach this tag to him. This reality is more dangerous to Mbeki than any populist pretender to his throne.
- Communications – the sooner Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri gets the boot the better
- Trade and Industry – mainly due to the ongoing Lotto debacle and our selective tarriffs on Chinese textiles
P.S. Speaking of useless ministries did anyone notice in the Sunday Times Careers section that the recruitment ad for the vacant Director-General of Home Affairs post was recalled?
If you had to look at the front page of Inside Politics you’d think you were looking at a normal blog about SA politics, albeit one that looks like it was designed in 1998 and with no RSS feed or coments (although I must say their series on Chapter 9 Institutions is enlightening). What you won’t see straight away is that it’s run by the Democratic Alliance. From the whois page at www.org.za:
INSIDEPOLITICS_1164624537_ORGZA (insidepolitics.org.za) Democratic Alliance P O Box 1475, Cape Town, 8000
Now I’m all for political parties using the internet to get their message out but I think in this case there needs to be some transparency. And RSS feeds.
In my opinion, it’s high time for a cabinet shuffle. Despite the renewed statements committing themselves to delivery and better governance it’s still the same old of bunch of ministers that have lead us to what is becoming more and more of an administration so unsure of what to do next they’re too afraid to make a move. Here are the top four ministries that need a shake up.
- Health: It’s becoming apparent that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is not healthy. After a lengthy stay in hospital for a lung infection she came out and gave a press briefing in which she was clearly not with it mentally and is now back in hospital. We know that Mbeki has protected Manto in the past but it’s clear her wacky views on HIV treatment are making him look an idiot. With her back in hospital it’s an ideal opportunity for her to ‘retire’ due to ‘health reasons’ and get someone in who will bring some international respect back to the Health Department.
- Communications: It’s not often that one person can cost a country billions of Rands but in the case of Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri we have a candidate. In the eight years since she’s been minister South Africa has had the highest communication costs in the entire world. ICASA is possibly the most ineffective regulator on the planet and meanwhile Telkom racks up billions in profit off infrastructure our taxes paid for. And then to add insult to injury just this morning she blamed the ‘private sector’ for not helping out in the local loop unbundling process, forgetting the fact that she had previously made self provisioning illegal.
- Public Enterprises: Thanks to Alec Erwin being asleep at the wheel while SA’s economy grew without a corresponding growth in power generation we can now look forward to five years of power blackouts. Meanwhile SAA needs a few hundred million Rand to bail themselves out of debt, but yet have the ability to launch a low cost airline. And when he’s not losing SA stacks of cash he’s involved in intra-governmental fights with our previous candidate Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri about who gets to control the state broadband infrastructure.
- Home Affairs: Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has not been in the position as long as the others listed above but one thing is certain, Home Affairs is as much a mess as the day she took over. Mapisa-Nqakula has made a step in the right direction asking for help from some of the other departments to help in sorting the place out but it may be too little too late. Departmental officials are leaving first chance they can, and the organisation needs a Sargent-Major more than a Director-General.
There are a whole bunch of other ministers who need a swift kick in the pants. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments.
The electricity supply crisis will not be getting better for at least another five years, with our reserve generating capacity being less than half of what it should be. Eskom plans to spend R97 billion rand over the next five years to bring our reserves up to the benchamrk 15% reserve capacity.
The cause of this complete balls up can be laid squarely at the feet of government, specifically the cabinet, who barred Eskom from building any new power plants from 2001 – 2004 although one must wonder why Eskom didn’t start furiously building power plants after 2004. Cabinet barred Eskom from building new plants in the hope of attracting private investors, but they didn’t do much else besides that. So much for the efficiency of central planning.
The electricity landscape is quite uncertain with some municipalities (such as Cape Town) buying power via Regional Electricity Distributors (who are always being threatened with closure) and others buying direct from Eskom or other third parties. With the enormous capital outlay required to build power stations you can understand why private investors didn’t swoop in.
Unfortunately this is not the only area where government has made a decree and then sat back to watch nothing else happen. After Telkom lost their “official” fixed line monopoly (which still exits for all intents and purposes) it took five years before anyone was prepared to invest in a competitor and they only did so with significant government investment as well (Neotel is 30% state owned).
I wonder which industry will be next to suffer the stellar planning of cabinet.
Here is the text of the Telecom Action Group donor supported ad highlighting the state of SA’s telecommunications, due to the behaviour of our state sanctioned monopoly Telkom, that ran in todays Mail & Guardian.
Last year, Telkom recorded a staggering R9.3 billion in pure profit. At your expense. South Africans continue to pay some of the highest prices for telephony services in the world. Don’t expect the government to step in. They couldn’t give a hoot. They’ve got a 38% shareholding. This in itself is like a ticket to act with impunity. And anyway, it’s the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) which acts as the watchdog for the telecommunications industry. Their central role is to regulate telecommunications in the public interest. So how come they’re not barking noisily and waking up the country about the fact that South Africans pay five times as much for a local call now than they did in 1996? Or that internet access in South Africa is among the most expensive in the world (in fact, you’ll pay less for broadband in Morocco, Egypt, Botswana, and Mozambique)? Or that Telkom is only too happy to pay a R15 million fine for failing to deliver basic services where “it was not economical to do so” (Hold the phone, could that be your area they were talking about?) Worse still, Telkom has laid off over 35 000 staff over the past seven years, ensuring that its profits continue sky-rocketing while the rest of the country continues at a snail’s pace, waiting up to six inexcusable months or more, to get connected. To anything. And all this from a company that is supposedly “proudly South African”? Indeed, something is very wrong when the only way the public can get through to Telkom is by running a full page newspaper advertisement. Because clearly, Telkom isn’t answering the phone.
I urge everyone to buy this week’s issue of the Mail & Guardian. Inside you’ll find a full page ad, paid entirely with funds from donors (of which I am one), from the Telecoms Action Group bringing attention to the sorry state of telecommunications in South Africa. We’ve spoken about state of telecommunications here and things have not gotten any better.
We have in Telkom a government sanctioned monopoly intent on squeezing out as many billions in profit from consumers who have no choice but to use them. We have in Minister of Communications Ivy Matsepe Casaburri a minister who has done nothing more than block any efforts to make telecoms more open. And finally in ICASA we have possibly the most toothless, incompetent telecoms regulator on the planet. Add it all up and not even the introduction of Neotel, our recently licenses and ye t to launch second fixed line network operator, will be able to make a change.
South African consumers have often let companies get away with exorbitant fees for substandard products and this ad is a rare occurrence of consumer activism.
So buy a copy of the M&G and show the advert to everyone you can. The more publicity the better.