SA Newsmakers of the Year - part one - TechCentral

SA Newsmakers of the Year – part one

Another tumultuous year is almost at an end for the SA information and communications technology industry. It was a year of falling telecommunications prices, increasing competition, upheaval in politics and drama in the regulatory environment.

Our “Newsmakers of the Year” award is presented to individuals we believe had the biggest impact on SA’s technology sector. For the most part, they’re also the the people who made the headlines in 2010. Part two, consisting of positions five through to one, is here.

If you missed our list of the international newsmakers of 2011, you can find it here.  — Staff reporter, TechCentral

Robert Gumede

The Gijima nonexecutive chairman stirred controversy in 2011 when he pulled the plug on his short-lived investment in the Golden Lions Rugby Union. Gumede’s investment, with long-time friend and business partner, Ivor Ichikowitz of defence and armaments group Paramount, would have resulted in the two men acquiring 49,9% of the Lions.

But Gumede and Ichikowitz fell out with Lions management, accusing the union of wanting their money but not being interested in their plans to effect meaningful transformation. Gumede accused Lions managers of being “stuck in the past” and not prepared to “buy into the future”.

It was a troubled year for Gijima, too, which lost its multibillion-rand IT contract with the department of home affairs. Home affairs pulled the plug on the lucrative contract after costs ballooned from R2,1bn to R4,5bn. Cancellation of the contract reportedly cost home affairs R389m.

It wasn’t all bad news for the IT company this year, though. It signed a deal to become the first Apple systems integrator in Southern Africa. This followed an earlier decision to give all of Gijima’s staff iPad tablet computers.  — DM

Pieter Uys

The Vodacom Group CEO took to Twitter in July after the network experienced a widespread service outage and came in for a tongue-lashing from consumers on the social networking site. Uys responded to criticism directly and, by engaging with disgruntled consumers, he helped manage the fallout from the incident significantly.

Uys had another fire to put out in the form of an apparent blunder after Vodacom said it would cap BlackBerry users’ data in an effort to curb excessive use by some subscribers that were using their devices to download enormous amounts of data, impairing the network in the process. Uys denied that any caps were to be imposed and said instead that Vodacom was in talks with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion to find a solution to the problem.

Of course, Uys also oversaw the complex process of rebranding and overhauling Vodacom’s corporate identity to red in keeping with its majority shareholder, UK-based Vodafone. For these reasons, he makes our newsmakers list for 2011.  — CW

Lars Reichelt

The maverick Cell C CEO stepped down in June for “personal reasons” but remains in the country looking for new opportunities. Under his leadership, Cell C built a third-generation mobile broadband network and overhauled the brand through a high-profile advertising and marketing campaign. It also slashed mobile broadband prices, prompting rivals to react.

It courted controversy, too, with rivals repeatedly complaining about its ad campaigns at the Advertising Standards Authority. Cell C’s campaign poking fun at the overhaul of Vodacom’s brand identity had its bigger rival seeing red.

Simon Duffy, Cell C’s chairman, is leading the company in an acting capacity until a full-time replacement can be found. Duffy has promised to continue the strategic course begun by Reichelt.

Meanwhile, former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig is rumoured to be in talks with Cell C, possibly to take an investment in the company, though he told TechCentral recently he had made no firm decisions yet about returning to the telecommunications industry. If he were to join the company, it is more likely he’ll come in an advisory role or as chairman.

We look forward to seeing what Reichelt decides to do in 2012. Will he make our newsmakers list next year? Watch this space.  — DM

Mamodupi Mohlala

Head of the recently formed National Consumer Commission (NCC), Mamodupi Mohlala has a reputation for being fiery and uncompromising — traits that will stand her in good stead as the head of SA’s consumer watchdog body.

Mohlala was instrumental in serving compliance notices on SA’s mobile and fixed-line operators, demanding that they amend their contracts to bring them in line with the requirements of the Consumer Protection Act.

She was previously director-general at the department of communications where she had a highly fractious falling out with then communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda. The former minister attempted to sack Mohlala only to have her reinstated when she challenged the decision.

When BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion suffered a three day outage in October, Mohlala was in the news again for suggestion that BlackBerry users should seek compensation.

There is no doubt Mohlala will be in the news again in 2012, particularly as the consumer commission continues its fight with network operators to get them to bring their contracts in line with the requirements of the law.  — CW

Mteto Nyati

The Microsoft SA MD helped lead an interesting black economic empowerment initiative in terms of which it has undertaken to invest in local, black-owned independent software vendors on an “equity equivalence” basis. Microsoft won’t be taking equity stakes in the companies, but hopes that the solutions they develop with its assistance will be of use to the software giant, too.

Microsoft SA is precluded from selling equity in its local operation and sees the initiative as a way to build local companies into global players and to improve its own black empowerment rating.

With Microsoft looking to regain lost ground in 2012 with its Windows 8 operating system and its partnership with mobile handset manufacturer Nokia, Nyati will have his hands full bringing these and other products to market.  — CW

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