It’s not surprising to see Paris Mashile, former chairman of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), more relaxed than before. Less than a week ago he was one of the most prominent figures in the telecommunications industry; today he says he is “just a simple so-and-so”.
Sitting in the stark white seats at Mythos, a Greek restaurant in Sandton, he freely admits that being in the top spot at the regulator has been an exceptionally difficult time — and he is more than happy to let someone else take the reins.
A self-proclaimed anarchist and political activist, Mashile was appointed to the authority five years ago to replace the highly respected Mandla Langa. But it’s been a tough course to steer and he says it has not all gone as he had hoped.
“I had a vision when I came into office, and that was to use communications technology to address the social maladies our country faces,” he says.
His dream was to see people from all walks of life using technology to interact with each other, no matter their social status. “Imagine a teacher and a class in Boston, debating and discussing issues with children in the slums of Africa.”
Mashile still believes that it will be possible, if not inevitable.
He thinks telecoms will still help uplift underprivileged communities, even though it didn’t happen during his term of office. He says for his dream to be realised, Icasa will need a particular type of leader as chairman.
“It needs someone with energy, someone who will look at every aspect of every issue and decide what needs to be done,” Mashile says.
“It needs someone who has a good foundation in the industry. But most of all, it needs someone with courage, because to remain independent [of government]will be very tough,” he says.
Steven Mncube has since taken over as chair of the authority, and Mashile says he embodies many of these qualities. “He is a very personable man.”
However, Mashile is hoping Icasa’s councillors will support Mncube as he gets going in the new job. “I hope I have laid the foundations for him, and, with the support of council, he will do well,” he says.
Mashile is all about groundwork, and says his long studies in maths and physics are testament to what solid foundations can bring. Despite being a product of the Bantu education system, Mashile excelled in these fields, earning several degrees in maths and science.
Surprisingly, though, Mashile’s true passion is Shakespeare. Those who have attended his presentations can attest to the many times he has quoted Julius Caesar.
Swirling his glass of Pinotage, he tells me it is his favorite play. He has taken several life lessons from its pages. “Men at some time are masters of their fates: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings,” he quotes word-perfect.
For Mashile, being the master of your own destiny has long been a mantra. Having survived many atrocities during apartheid — including being tortured by the apartheid security police — he says he always sets out to win.
His love of Shakespeare goes as far back as high school, where he met his first wife, Roslyn.
“She starred as Roslyn in Romeo and Juliet — and how right it is that there is also a character called Paris. I was too shy to audition for that play.”
True to his character, Mashile is not planning to settle into obscurity with his plays and his calculator. He hints at the possibility of opening his own business, a matter he brought up almost a year ago. However, he won’t reveal any details of his plans.
He says that for the next month he will take time to recuperate from a tough term as Icasa chairman, but says he will be back in the technology industry soon. — Candice Jones, TechCentral