South Africa’s education system is crumbling and 10-year-olds can’t read for meaning. As much as we are failing at these, well, crucial country-building things, we are unfortunately excelling at tenderpreneuring.
How else do you explain the latest inflated invoice scandal over a so-called app store that can’t take payments, nor let you download the apps that aren’t on sale?
The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies built a website called DigiTech, which it calls “a digital products portal”.
The site’s purpose “is to collect data about digital products developed in South Africa with an aim of supporting the products’ technology enablement and promote & expand their adoption and use,” it proclaims.
“Through DigiTech, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies seek [sic] to promote SA developed digital products in other markets whilst facilitating partnerships with other countries on co-promotion of local technologies”.
In this instance, it has only demonstrated our countrymen’s ability to swindle. The website is built using an antiquated programming language called Drupal, utilising a design “theme” called Martis that costs all of $49 (R920).
The department, which includes the words “digital technologies” in its name, blew a whopping R743,644 on this app store that is neither a store nor a download site.
But the department is guilty of making an equally poor choice of technology. Drupal was once a useful language. It has been superseded by more modern and easy-to-use options, not least of which is WordPress.
The so-called app store displays 52 apps, but there is no way to pay for them or download them. It is patently clear this is not worth three-quarters of a million rand. This was state capture 2.0 in full swing.
The outrageous cost was revealed after the DA asked a parliamentary question late last month after the communications department made a fuzz when it launched the website in July 2022. “Many users who visited the site likened it to a grade 8 IT project that was created over a weekend,” DA MP Natasha Mazzone said last month.
“The website was of an extremely low quality and did not fulfil the function of an ‘app store’ at all. In fact, embarrassingly it was merely a collection of embedded promotional YouTube videos. What made it even more embarrassing was that the ANC government did not even remember to moderate the uploaded content, most of them being ‘memes’ or videos that actively mocked the ANC,” she added. That was the previous version which had then cost nothing to build.
Seemingly stung by the embarrassment, then Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said in July 2022 that the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) had designed the website DigiTech, but it was then being redesigned.
If that wasn’t bad enough, tech news site ITWeb reported in May that the DigiTech website could be accessed with ease because it still had “admin” set as the administrator username and password. As my 95-year-old mother is fond of exclaiming, oy vey.
This is the ministry responsible for driving the country’s digital strategy and this is how it manages its own website. It’s not a good sign.
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The site proclaims its function is “to be a recognised world leader and authority in the industry for design and creativity”. You’d laugh if you didn’t want to cry. The only creativity was in the spectacular over-pricing.
Stories from the time have a Free State official proclaiming that reports putting the bill at R140 million were incorrect and it was only R40 million. Either way, it was an astounding rip-off.
The key problem is that is a sign of how the ministry actually operates. No wonder this critical technology portfolio is failing our citizens.
- This column first appeared on Daily Maverick.