is set to restructure the ICT sector to
facilitate investment to promote user-friendly
telecom access across the nation.
Complete with some of the latest in wireless,
fixed-line, satellite and cellular technology,
South Africa boasts a large and developed telecommunications
network. Many areas which previously lacked
coverage now have wireless technologies available
to them as business becomes increasingly competitive
among local providers.
The cellular market, for one, is now the fourth
fastest growing Global System for Mobile Communications
(GSM) market worldwide. International companies
are heading to South Africa, including Virgin
Mobile, which launched its services in June.
Today there are more then 14 million mobile-phone
and 5 million fixed-line subscribers nationwide.
Meanwhile, new information and communications
technology (ICT) is becoming widely available
and user-friendly. From Public Information Terminals
(PITs) to Multi-Purpose Community Centrums (MPCCs),
South African communities are gaining access
to ICT. The World Bank is co-funding projects
aimed at developing tele-medicine, tele-health,
tele-education and tele-agriculture. Another
project in the pipeline includes a partnership
with Microsoft to produce computerized languages
in all of South Africas 11 languages.
Work remains to be done. The government is
looking to reduce high telecoms costs and change
its regulatory environment. The African Connection
Project, for example, is set to restructure
the sector through new policy and regulatory
frameworks that facilitate investment. Also,
historically the sector had had little competition
since Telkom, the largest provider in Africa,
had a monopoly. Now its deregulation is opening
up gaps for other wireless broadband and data
service providers. Emerging on the scene is
Vodacom, a joint venture between Telkom and
Vodafone that showcases foreign investment in
South Africa and provides GSM service to more
than 21.5 million customers on the continent.
A successful South African multinational well
established in the market is MTN, which has
GSM networks in eight African countries and
17 million subscribers.
Minister of Communications
In the interview that follows, the South African
Minister of Communications, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri,
talks about the ministrys goals, the importance
of the sector and the challenges that lie ahead.
What do you consider to be the ministrys
We have made a lot of progress, but we still
have a long road ahead of us. Right now, costs
are too high so our main goal is to achieve
affordability. We also hope to connect local
and national governments, which means linking
more than 200 municipalities. We are also working
with the Departments of Labor and Education
to install internet access in all of South Africas
schools by 2013. We have to work on improving
infrastructure and facilitating signal distribution
to all of the nations provinces and ensure
that every language station is available in
its relevant province.
How important is communications in bringing
historically disadvantaged people into the mainstream
economy and society?
The ICT sector plays a key role in social cohesion.
It is a vital instrument because it promotes
a better understanding of democracy, and it
makes a contribution to the process of nation
building. Also, the sector is one of the most
successful in terms of effective implementation
of the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Code.
What are the biggest challenges that lie
Accessibility and bringing down the costs for
national and international businesses are probably
our greatest tasks. We have to make the sector
more competitive to reduce prices. The Independent
Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)
works to promote affordable telecoms services
and promote new players in the industry. Another
challenge is digitalization, which is important
because it gives us the potential to reach people
in a wide range of languages. Then content becomes
a challenge. We must decide what content to
develop and how, again in all 11 languages.
Currently we are working with other governmental
departments for content on health, education,
culture, science and technology. Broadband will
not really work unless you have the proper content
and it is key for our development. It not only
allows for the liberalization of the market,
but also opens up all kinds of opportunities.