[By Denis Smit]
President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle announced over the weekend has brought some good news to a communications industry that has been a bit short of it lately.
The highly respected Roy Padayachie has replaced Siphiwe Nyanda as communications minister. Padayachie is arguably the best man for the job – as a former communications deputy minister, he brings a wealth of experience to the table.
During his early years as deputy minister, Padayachie was visible and many of the interactions with the sector were considered progressive and good. He played a driving role in the colloquium on the cost of communications.
He gained much respect from the industry during the first part of his tenure. But he suddenly went politically quiet, and many in industry thought the then minister, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, and director-general, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, had reined him in.
His appointment as minister will be welcomed, but he certainly has his work cut out for him.
Nyanda is leaving behind a lot of challenges. The SABC is extremely problematic, Sentech still requires a mandate, and the digital television standards fiasco requires urgent attention. The department of communications is also in bad shape. And there is little clarity on the role of state-owned enterprises and broadband.
Padayachie needs to drive broadband policy and strategy — this has stagnated — and rebuild a department ravaged by political controversy.
Nyanda’s axing is not too much of a surprise. The tattered department, coupled with the mess at state-owned businesses that fall under the department’s portfolio — as well as allegations of tender irregularities — made Nyanda politically vulnerable.
Zuma’s decision was a culmination of many bad decisions by Nyanda. I think the final straw was the situation between himself and his former director-general, Mamodupi Mohlala. The impact of that situation was devastating on morale at the department. If you walk through the halls of the department, all you see is empty offices. A lot of the institutional knowledge in the department has walked out the door.
But Nyanda did do some things right. His aggressive drive to have interconnection rates cut is one positive legacy he leaves behind. Hopefully it will lead to lower rates for consumers.
So, Padayachie’s first step will be to hire new talent and instil the staff with morale and drive.
He must fix the SABC, which requires urgent attention.
He must take a firmer hand with Sentech. Sentech’s role as a provider of broadband needs clarity.
Digital migration is another key issue that Padayachie must tackle early on. Migration to terrestrial broadcasts using the European standard must be put back on track.
Lastly, the roles that Broadband Infraco, the Universal Service & Access Agency of SA, Sentech and the provincial, metropolitan and municipal broadband initiatives need to be defined.
Of course, he must also choose his director-general wisely. I am not even going to hazard a guess at who that might be. He already has a good start with his deputy, Obed Bapela, about whom I have heard only good things.
- Denis Smit is MD of BMI-TechKnowledge