This was TechCentral’s April Fool’s Day article, published on 1 April 2010...
ANC Youth League president Julius Malema wants government to nationalise two private sector-led telecommunications cable initiatives.
The firebrand politician told supporters at a rally on Wednesday that the Seacom and East Africa Submarine System (Eassy) undersea cables should be acquired by the state.
Malema (pictured), who promised to raise the issue at the ANC’s next national executive committee meeting, said the idea of nationalising the submarine cables was discussed earlier this week when he met with representatives of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party in Zimbabwe.
The youth league’s delegation to Zimbabwe, which included deputy secretary general Steven Ngobeni and national spokesman Floyd Shivambu, discussed which aspects of SA’s economy should be nationalised to “speed up the redistribution of wealth to the poor and the needy”.
Malema said the ANC Youth League had already identified the mining industry as a key target.
But he said the telecommunications sector was also of “critical national importance” and therefore could not be entrusted to “the imperialists who are robbing the poor”.
“The cables are too important for these people to have them,” he told hundreds of cheering supporters.
“We want the ANC in the conference in 2012 to pronounce what is the stand of the ANC on the nationalisation of these cables. We want decisive leadership, we don’t want cowards.”
Asked by journalists after the rally whether he’d want to retain any private-sector involvement in Eassy and Seacom, Malema said he only wanted to ensure government had majority control of the cable systems.
Private shareholders would be allowed to retain minority stakes, he said. They’d be allowed to continue “running the cables” on behalf of the government.
Zimbabwe’s youth development, indigenisation and economic empowerment minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, said he supported Malema’s call for the nationalisation of telecoms. “Zimbabwe has proved how nationalisation can work for our people,” he said.
Malema said the private sector had failed to provide telecoms services to ordinary South Africans and the only way to ensure telephones and broadband reached the poor was to give government the power to do this by taking over critical infrastructure like undersea cables.
“We have to control the cables,” he said, before issuing a warning: “We won’t stop there. Vodacom and MTN and Cell C, they must watch out. Their prices are too high.”
Malema said his plans wouldn’t scare away investors. “The private sector will still have 40%. They must ensure everything still runs smoothly. They must make sure standards are not compromised. We are going to do this in partnership with the private sector, but with us being the majority.”
He said the additional revenue government would earn from the nationalised companies would “build hospitals, give people electricity … the pace is very slow because there is no money. We are relying only on tax. Where can we get extra money?”
Even if Malema is successful in convincing the ANC that Eassy and Seacom should be nationalised, doing so could prove difficult.
Though Seacom is majority-owned by SA companies, including entities controlled by ANC-aligned businessmen Andile Ngcaba and Cyril Ramaphosa, it also has a significant foreign shareholder base; and telecoms operators from all over the world own the Eassy cable.
Together, the backers of Seacom and Eassy have invested about US$1bn in the cables. Seacom went live in 2009 and Eassy is expected to be ready for commercial service in the third quarter of 2010.
Asked to react to Malema’s comments, Seacom president Brian Herlihy said: “Is this a joke?” — Staff reporter, TechCentral
- Photo credit: Phillip de Wet, The Daily Maverick