Muthambi's first year as minister assessed - TechCentral

Muthambi’s first year as minister assessed

Faith Muthambi

Faith Muthambi

On 20 May, communications minister Faith Muthambi will deliver her second budget vote speech. Those expecting her to roll over and play dead in the light of the controversy that has dogged her tenure are probably in for a surprise. The minister is likely to flex her muscles as she goes about asserting herself in the broadcasting industry.

Muthambi inherited arguably one of government’s best-run departments, the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).

President Jacob Zuma’s decision after last year’s general election to split the old communications department into the department of telecommunications & postal services and a new department of communications, incorporating GCIS, raised eyebrows. Muthambi’s work was cut out from the start.

With the telecoms, broadcasting and IT industries converging, Zuma’s splitting of the departments immediately created a storm. Speculation that government was creating a “ministry of propaganda” intensified when the SABC and communications regulator Icasa were added to the mix of entities reporting to Muthambi.

The decision was also criticised for being hasty and not properly thought out. It has taken three presidential proclamations to decide who exactly does what.

In fairness, Muthambi handled the flak like a pro. Her budget vote speech in July last year was more guarded than that of her telecoms counterpart, Siyabonga Cwele. For instance, she made no mention of the digital migration project — yet she is now its main driver.

Although many speculate about the reasons for delays to the digital television project — and for the controversial scrapping of encryption in goverment’s final policy — Muthambi’s project leader, Solly Mokoetle, is right in saying that the main aim is to free up spectrum for the roll-out of broadband by telecoms operators.

At this late stage of the game, and with missing the digital migration deadline of 17 June, agreed to with the International Telecommunication Union, a given, it seems Muthambi probably made the right decision to scrap government-mandated encryption, despite howls of protest from some parties.

SABC mess
Muthambi’s track record at the SABC has been far less impressive.

In her budget vote speech in 2014, the minister said stabilising the troubled broadcaster was at the top of her agenda. “We expect that the filling of both the chief operating officer as well as the CEO and chief financial officer positions subsequently will result in clarity of purpose for the SABC,” she said.

In fact, the opposite has happened. The SABC has lurched from crisis to crisis as Muthambi pulled out all the stops to ensure that Hlaudi Motsoeneng remains in place as chief operating officer.

Despite a high court ruling that suspended him from his post recently, he has defiantly remained in place.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Hlaudi Motsoeneng

The Sunday Times reported recently that the SABC is facing mounting losses.

Motsoeneng also faces allegations around the SABC’s R500m deal with MultiChoice that allegedly resulted in the broadcaster doing an about-turn on the encryption issue. It now supports MultiChoice’s view on the subject. The parties have denied the two are linked.

The SABC has not had a full-time CEO for 15 months and a chairman of the board for five months.

James Aguma was appointed as chief financial officer in January 2015. A number of board members have resigned and two have been ejected by the pro-Motsoeneng board. Let’s not forget that chairman Zandile Tshabalala was forced to resign in the wake of a scandal over the falsification of her qualifications. Deputy chair Mbulaheni Mahuvhe is leading the board in acting capacity.

Icasa controversy
While Muthambi mentioned Icasa only in passing in her budget vote speech last year, she has drawn considerable flak for issuing dismissal letters to four Icasa councillors whose terms of office came to an end in October last year.

Joseph Lebooa, William Currie, William Stucke and Miki Ndhlovu were instructed to vacate their offices at the end of the month in which their terms expired.

This was despite the Icasa Act making it clear that there is an obligatory 45-day extension term, unless a councillor’s successor is already in place. No successors had been appointed and Muthambi’s actions fuelled speculation she was intent on reducing the number of Icasa councillors with the intention of having a more compliant regulator. Nevertheless, the portfolio committee on communications met this week to discuss possible candidates for the vacant Icasa posts.

Muthambi’s budget vote speech was generic and spoke of implementing a “national communication strategy” with “other departments” and “provincial and local government”.

Muthambi waded into controversy at Icasa

Muthambi waded into controversy at Icasa

The minister commended GCIS for doing a “sterling job”. However, the past year has seen some strange developments with regard to government’s communication arm. Firstly, GCIS was incorporated into Muthambi’s department. However, allegations that the minister clashed with senior staff as a result of her bull in a china shop demeanour saw the service splitting from the communications department.

Now both the communications department and the GCIS report to the minister of communications as separate departments and function independently of one another. The communications department exercises oversight of the SABC, the Media Development and Diversity Agency, Icasa, Brand South Africa and the Film and Publication Board.

Former acting director-general of GCIS and government spokesman Phumla Williams was relieved of her position and replaced by the junior Donald Liphoko as director-general of the communications department. Williams has now retained her role as cabinet spokesman and reports to the office of minister in the presidency Jeff Radebe. GCIS has yet to appoint its own director-general. Meanwhile, Muthambi has also raised the ire of staff by appointing controversial former GCIS CEO Jimmy Manyi as her special advisor.

Another of Muthambi’s commitments was to ensure that Brand South Africa carries out its mandate. “The positive positioning of the country is crucial for job creation through the strengthening of our competitiveness as a nation,” she said.

But South Africa’s star has been shining less brightly on the international stage in recent years. There are a number of reasons for this, including the rise of other African countries and the recent xenophohic attacks. Brand South Africa seems unable to rise to the challenge of selling the country as a global leader.

It doesn’t help that it is embroiled in a dispute with the minister over allegedly being forced to bankroll the minister’s task team to the tune of R1,1m.

This week, United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa accused government of abusing Brand South Africa by appointing senior ANC leaders to its ambassadors’ programme.

Holomisa alleges ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize’s overseas trips under the Brand South Africa banner are a guise for raising party funds.

Other “ambassadors” appointed to the programme include former social development minister and ambassador to the UK Zola Skweyiya, former Northern Cape premier Manne Dipico and former North West premier Popo Molefe.

The communications minister’s first name is “Azwihangwisi”, meaning “unforgettable” in Tshivenda. She’s certainly made an impression in the short time in the position. Expect more fireworks from this minister when she delivers her budget vote speech on 20 May.  — © 2015 NewsCentral Media


  1. This individual is the first and foremost poster child of everything wrong with the Zuma/ANC rule by Diktat.
    She should be ever thankful to the ANC for her cabinet position as her communication skills are actually ZERO. Her command of English borders on the incoherent which says a lot, especially as she’s supposed to be up to speed on business English, being the MINISTER of COMMUNICATIONS!
    Faith Muthambi is nothing but another overpaid, unelected ANC bully with a megaphone mandate from her handlers at Luthuli House to push the party line and never go off the script, for therein lies the big bucks today and yet bigger bucks in the future.
    In short, she’s just another sad ANC Apparatchik, out-of-her-depth, deployee in an FNB stadium sized Kitchen Cabinet of over 40 members.
    Thank the good Lord I didn’t vote for this gang of Gypsies, rogues and crooks, my conscience is clear. But my taxes contribute to their Blue Light Convoy life styles though!

  2. Dave, that is a decent rant in the early hours, to start off this weekend.
    But surely have to agree with you, Muthambi is a clueless Super Zoomer stooge. Doing the only thing that is required of her : protecting the seniors of Luthuli House and the lord of Nkandla.

    She is totally clueless for a real job.

  3. The 20 year honeymoon of the ANC is over! The cracks are about to break. In every sector of SA over the last 8 years is worsening! The Mining sector is a disaster, crime after 20 years zero improvement, employment education going nowhere! Property sector is holding stationary since 2008. Tourism down. FDI way down no one will take risk under this xenophobic government. Communication and IT has radically progressed for top 10%. Social and healthcare is pathetic. Housing development Affordable still over R850b missing. Durban has gone from 11th best harbor in the world to 33rd. Quality of life versus standard of living 79th in the world! This is the product of government eager for change. The price South African citizens have to pay for equally uneducated leaders.

  4. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    >>She is totally clueless for a real job.

    Clueless enough it would seem, to steer policy in a direction that is based on such successfully implemented BDM as in the UK.

    I know that there are plenty more countries that are looking at adopting similar proven successful BDM strategies as in the UK and many view such apps as the BBC’s iPlayer as a global leader.

    Perhaps you should clue us in on exactly what it is that you see being the best workable solution in the circumstances because from what I’m reading from the comments here; there’s really nothing of intelligent value and that my friend makes you also appear to be…

    >>totally clueless for a real job.

  5. I vented my strong opinions and definite plans for the Digital Migration for years already.

    Most and foremost : Stop all Gov intervention and subsidies for the manufacturing and distribution of STBs. Leave it completely to the separate broadcasters and private electronics manufacturing and retail sector whether they want encryption, HDCP, Hufmann code or the like.
    TV is not a basic human necessity like drinking water, education or healthcare.
    When this Gov finally learns to let go, we can have DTT within half a year. And the old analogue signal can be switched of within a year.
    Gov must concentrate on core functions like security, basic infrastructure and elementary needs for the poor.

    BTW, this will save at least R 10 Billion on Nene’s budget, which already has an unacceptable high deficit of above 3% of GDP. SA, the state borrows R 160 to 190 Billion annually.

  6. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    And given that in life, you and I as well as others, just like the ETVs of this world, are not guaranteed to always have things going exactly as you would want –

    …it certainly seems to me that the direction which has now been taken given all that’s occurred;

    by the minister which as you’ve suggested in your remark:

    >>She is totally clueless for a real job.

    …happens to be a direction that is now certainly bringing us a lot closer to implementing BDM in the most ideal manner that also makes it feasible to complete within the time-frames that you too have also suggested – (Now just imagine if we could only have more clueless ministers just like her.)

  7. She’s an incompetent ANC duffer who’s reading (in appalling English) from a script written for her by the ANC cronies she is serving against the interests of the greater number of SA citizens out there.
    It’s patently obvious that Faith Muthambi, left to her own devices, could not formulate a policy to run a Spaza store at a profit let alone fulfill the duties of an efficient cabinet minister as she is simply another ANC ventriloquist’s dummy serving as a first line of defence in Zuma’s war against best practice ethics and reality.
    She is not on a religious calling and can resign whenever she likes…last May 2014 would have been a good date to do it.

  8. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    Since what this is; for you, is about playing the person –

    You Baas Davebee, are testament to the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

    There may have been a time in your youth when there was the kind of thought processing to your remarks that would’ve been described by your mother as being intelligent but since going into retirement – along with retiring your brain…

    …one can easily find a 4000year old Egyptian mummy with grey matter that still functions more intelligently than what you have between the ears. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the elderly – but just how old are you? Your remarks don’t reflect the wisdom that has been said to come with a mature age.

  9. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    And like a frog that has the ability to jump right out of the pot with water that has been placed on the stove set to boil…

    …here you are complaining about how you’re so unfortunate to be getting boiled alive instead of jumping out of the pot.

    You’re not a very smart frog – are you now?

  10. Greg Mahlknecht on

    Statistically speaking, if she’s in a position long enough, she’s going to do at least one thing right 🙂

    In fact, by the way she spoke about her decision on the STB’s(remember the twitter fight against Duncan?), thinking she was still protecting local manufacturing, it appears that either she made a mistake or she really doesn’t know what she’s signing. It was really bizarre.

  11. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    Greg, you are running your own business as are many others just like myself and I hold the same view that local manufacturing is still being protected under the amended policy; and I happen to be in the specific sector of business.

    The STB industry has always been open to all electronic industry players and the dominant player in the field, Altech UEC is not there by accident just like DStv has invested plenty into becoming the dominant player that it currently is.

    Just because a person cannot articulate in English (which should not; in any-case, be a requirement given that we’re in Africa and we do have our own native languages)… doesn’t necessarily mean that they are clueless on a subject matter.

    The best solution going forward would be to ensure that the subsidy benefits the 5mil poor households for which it is intended. A voucher of the average value as tendered by bidders of say R450 should be made available to the poor households for which the subsidy is intended.

    Just like you and I as well as others who go into business, the guys that have been awarded the tender, need to market; at their expense, their offerings to the specific target market and then redeem the rebate vouchers only after those qualifying persons have taken up their offering.

    This means that existing manufacturers will be protected and new players will have to ensure that they have a sustainable business plan to go to market so as not to find themselves out of business 3years or even sooner down the line.

    Now as someone who is in business yourself… how would you best protect aspirant new entrepreneurs and existing players?

    TV retailers have also been selling TVs for while now and they too can now bring in iDTVs – the smart new players can team up with OVHD (Multichoice is also an option BTW) and bring STBs to market that have CA and a return, further protecting their industry without the assistance of government at the tax payer’s expense.

    What these guys need to do is learn to work together – the amended policy is a workable one as long as there’s no one trying to claim a free ride on the gravy train.

  12. Greg Mahlknecht on

    >how would you best protect aspirant new entrepreneurs and existing players?

    I wouldn’t. If you can’t compete on your own merits, you should be doing something else. Government needs to get their act together and improve the environment for entrepreneurs, they should not need to make special laws for STBs.

    >so as not to find themselves out of business 3years or even sooner down the line

    That’s the issue Muthambi stumbled on. It appears that vanilla DVB-T2 tuners will work, so the control system meant to protect local manufacturers is all for nought. Once TVs are replaced with ones including free DVB-T2 tuners, the need for STB’s will fall away. Which is absolutely the correct decision. Muthambi’s reasoning behind how she reached that decision seems wrong, though, but that doesn’t bother me – there’s an end in sight, and it’s the right outcome.

    >What these guys need to do is learn to work together

    Couldn’t agree more. Rather than relying on government which has an undeniably appalling track record in this sector, they should have long ago taken the lead and made a solution (like OVHD has)

  13. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    >>Rather than relying on government which has an undeniably appalling track record in this sector, they should have long ago taken the lead and made a solution (like OVHD has)

    Its up to them to protect their interests, if they so choose; and the amended policy does not prevent that in any way.

    In-fact, I would go even further and afford anyone qualifying for the subsidy the opportunity to utilize the voucher as a discount on the purchase of an iDTV –

    …if I, as a poor person – have saved up enough to buy a new TV and I know that iDTVs are the best option to go with… I should not be disqualified from the subsidy plan.

  14. Greg Mahlknecht on

    > I would go even further and afford anyone qualifying for the subsidy the opportunity to utilize the voucher as a discount on the purchase of an iDTV

    That I agree with and have actually suggested it in the past. That’s squarely acting in the interests of the citizens, not the manufacturers. But it shouldn’t only be for local makers; if they want to use their subsidy on an imported iDTV, they should be allowed to.

  15. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    Whilst I do agree with you… that would unfortunately also bring to naught, the whole tender process – but I suppose all the guys awarded, now have an opportunity to work out a plan to OEM with the big brands.

  16. >>Since what this is; for you, is about playing the person –
    You are always playing the person. Stick to the facts, cut out the spiteful drivel and people might take more notice.

  17. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    Brainless Ricardo… ever heard of the saying;

    “If it ain’t broke then why try fix it”

    Aren’t you just a great example of someone who is always taking notice… (must be because I stick to the facts) I really do appreciate the vote of confidence you know.

  18. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    Brainless Ricardo…

    the “life” that you’re referring to –

    Would it by any chance be like your “exciting life” spent reading and responding to meaningless drivel…???

  19. Access exactly what? This is nuthin but a mindless talking head. The mistake made in 1994 was that you plug a group of rebels and mostly uneducated inexperienced to run the largest economy on the African continent. Like giving a 5 year old a new merc! Should have had a 50 year transition.

  20. Andrew Fraser on

    Unfortunately Muthambi is part of the kleptocracy. She is more concerned with protecting the financial interests of certain connected individuals than she is with fulfilling her Ministry’s mandate. However, much like a stopped clock that still tells the time correctly twice a day, her decision on CA was the correct one (whatever her motives).

  21. Her ministry is especially created to protect Number One and his cronies, nothing else. That is her mandate.
    She also has the Digital migration in her portfolio, as this must serve above all the ruling political elite.

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