New minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has her work cut out to reinvigorate this essential part of our economy


It was easy last week to focus on the failure to fire South Africa’s two most incompetent Cabinet ministers – Bathabile Dlamini and Nomvula Mokonyane – but the country should be heartened by our new communications minister.

It might be facetious to say Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams is infinitely better than any of her predecessors because they are such a motley crew of useless and corrupt Zumaïtes who did more to advance state capture than they did the country’s best interests. None more so than the utterly reviled Faith Muthambi, who the GuptaLeaks revealed committed a crime by forwarding Cabinet minutes to the Saxonwold Shebeen owners about the critical switchover to digital terrestrial television (DTT). Then there was her predecessor Roy Padayachie, who tried to influence coverage of the Guptas, amongst other things, and was yet another “Gupta minister” as former Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile described it last week.

He was speaking about weekend special Des van Rooyen whose abortive four-day stint as finance monster in December 2015 after Nhlanhla Nene was sacked cost the economy an estimated R500bn.

It’s improbable that an analysis will ever be done on the economic cost of the long-delayed DTT switch. It is designed to free up valuable spectrum in the 700 and 800Mhz range from the outdated broadcast of analogue TV signals so that it can be used by cellular operators. This spectrum is so valuable and so useful for making wireless broadband more efficient, more cost-effective, that it’s called the “digital dividend” by the GSM Association, the industry body that oversees the cellular industry.

It’s worth remembering that the global deadline for DTT switchover was June 2015, set by the UN’s International Telecommunication Unit (ITU).

The lost opportunities are unlikely ever to be calculated but “the Internet could transform sectors as diverse as agriculture, retail, and health care – and contribute as much as $300bn a year to Africa’s GDP by 2025,” according to a McKinsey Global Institute report from November 2013.

You can imagine how much of that would accrue to South Africa, which is the most digitally connected economy on the continent, especially as the report projected “$75bn in annual e-commerce sales”.

Ndabeni-Abrahams will head both the postal services & telecommunications and communications ministries, which will be reintegrated after next year’s elections and were only split to allow former Presidunce Jacob Zuma to hire more corrupt acolytes into Cabinet – and try swing the lucrative set-top box contract the way of the Guptas.

Ramaphosa called the move part of plan for “realigned government” which is expected after the elections. “The merging of Communications and of Telecommunications and Postal Services is the first wave but it is also to help with the realignment process which we need right now in order to put into effect the transformation that we are effecting with regards to economic management,” he said. We can only hope telecoms will get the due consideration it needs to drive our economy.

As the last week of testimony – and related opposition party shenanigans – at the Zondo Commission have shown, Pravin Gordhan has emerged as arguably South Africa’s most integrous man. Attacked remorselessly by #Presidunce Zuma’s hyenas for keeping the looters out, he’s now being falsely accused (especially through his daughter) of a new range of untruths, which basic fact-checking revealed as fake. Hopefully Ndabeni-Abrahams can be a brave and incorruptible as the example Gordhan has set.

This column first appeared in Financial Mail


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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