December 2013. As South Africans were forced to come to terms with the passing of former President Nelson Mandela, the significance of this event transcended the immediate implications of a South Africa without the famous global icon and statesman. It effectively held up a mirror to Africa’s economic powerhouse to reflect the realities of the country’s progress, its trials, tribulations, current status and direction.
In much the same way the country attracted global attention with the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990 and the subsequent negotiated political transition from a National Party-led government to one under African National Congress (ANC) rule, this month, once again, the world’s eyes have been on South Africa.
However, this time, viewers were using multi-media platforms and posting news and reatlime updates immediately using digital technology and social networks. As the moments unfolded, they were documented and disseminated globally, magnifying everything that transpired.
On 10 December 2013, at the official memorial for Mandela held at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, and attended by almost 100 international heads of state, the state of the Southern African country was indirectly put under the spotlight.
In addition to the many socio-economic and political issues under scrutiny in the country, almost 20-years into the post-apartheid chapter of its history, the level of South Africa’s ICT capability and technology application to help address these issues remains a critical consideration for leaders and stakeholders.
Technology taking the lead
The fact is that big things are expected from South Africa – particularly from a technology point of view.
In 2010, during another momentous year for South Africa when it played host to the FIFA World Cup, a study conducted by Pyramid Research predicted a $15.1 billion telecom market by 2014.
The Study South Africa: Operators Continue to Upgrade Networks as Mobile Data Demand Builds was a comprehensive 32-page profile of the country’s telecommunications industry.
In April 2013 an article entitled South Africa edges up ICT rankings spoke of the country’s achievement in officially gaining two places – from 72nd position to 70th out of 144 countries – in the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report.
According to the article “South Africa scored most strongly for its political and regulatory environment, ranking 21st overall thanks to a strong showing in sub-measures such as judicial independence, intellectual property protection and the efficiency of the legal system.
The country also scored well for leveraging ICT for its economic impacts, including impacts on new products and services and on new organisational models, ranking 51st overall; for its business and innovation environment (55th); and for its ICT infrastructure and digital content accessibility (59th), including mobile network coverage and availability of internet bandwidth.”
Organisers of the ICTD 2013 (International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development), paid tribute to Nelson Mandela by posting a piece reflecting the late statesman’s own insight and understanding of ICT.
In his address, Mandela stated: “…the evolution of policy for the development of an equitable global information society should be co-ordinated internationally to ensure the sharing of information and resources. The education of young people with regard to the skill needed for living in an information society should be prioritised.”
Indeed, the South African government has identified several priorities as part of its national ICT development plan, including broadband, digital migration and e-Skills. Recently, the National Broadband Policy, Strategy and Plan or ‘South Africa Connect’ has been approved by Cabinet and is expected to contribute significantly to economic growth, development and job creation.
Government representatives have said the overall objective of ‘South Africa Connect’ is to achieve a universal average download speed of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2030.
With this projected level of growth and opportunity, there is an increasing level of competition between service providers to capture the attention of consumers.
Major operators within the telecommunications environment, including Telkom SA, MTN Group, Vodacom and Cell C, continue to speak of their abilities, offerings and efforts to remain ahead of key trends, including the rollout of LTE, mobility and the realisation of the SmartCity strategy to extend connectivity.
South Africa’s Provincial Capital has, for some years, followed a Smart City Strategy, which means it adheres to the principles and dynamics of applying technology to optimise service delivery across all areas of metropolitan city life.
The City forms part of a large fibre network, developed by Liquid Telecom, which runs from Uganda to SA’s ‘Mother City’.
In May 2012 Cape Town played host to investors, mobile network operators and ICT service providers at the launch of the West African Cable System (WACS) linking Southern Africa and Europe. It is considered a milestone in the technological development of the region and the continent.
Another milestone for the country and the Continent was reached in May 2012 when it was announced that the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope would reside in both South Africa and Australia.
South Africa, with backing from eight partners across the continent, was chosen the preferred site for the construction of two-thirds of the SKA.
The decision followed the outcome of a meeting of the members of the SKA Organisation at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands and was announced at a press briefing held simultaneously in Pretoria and Cape Town. Two of the three SKA receiver components will be constructed in Africa. The MeerKAT will supplement the sensitive SKA Phase 1 dish array, providing the majority of the collection area of what will be the most sensitive radio telescope in the world. It was confirmed that the eight African states would also gain receivers.
However, South Africa’s ICT industry is not without its difficulties. In July this year South African President Jacob Zuma announced a cabinet reshuffle resulting in the end of Dina Pule’s tenure as Communications Minister and the appointment of her replacement, Minister Yunus Carrim.
It is the Department of Communication’s fourth minister under Zuma. At the time political analysts and media representatives spoke of the heavy responsibilities that awaited newly appointed Communications Minister Carrim – including a beleaguered regulatory body in ICASA, ongoing leadership issues at the state broadcaster, SABC, and the difficulty being experienced with the conversion from analogue to digital broadcasting, amongst others.
The Minister, it would seem, has been active. Whilst he has vowed to move forward on the development and rollout of a National Broadband Plan (which has now materialised), ICT operators and industry representatives have stressed the need for a more collaborative approach and partnerships to address the need for access to cost effective broadband for more people.
Minister Carrim told delegates at the annual Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (Satnac) in Stellenbosch in September that he intends to finalise the country’s radio frequency spectrum policy by March 2014.
“We aim to finalise the Spectrum Policy by March 2014. This includes the issue of high-demand spectrum for broadband, which is linked to digital migration,” he said during his speech.
The title of his presentation was South Africa’s Broadband Policy – Too many Delays, Now for Progress Together. It remains to be seen whether or not this progress will materialise.
* Image source: Luke Schmidt/ Shutterstock
Chris Tredger – Online Editor