New boss Dlodlo en­crypts what Muthambi un­en­crypted

The Sunday Independent - - NEWS -

SIX MONTHS since be­com­ing Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions af­ter President Ja­cob Zuma’s con­tro­ver­sial mid­night March 30 Cab­i­net reshuf­fle, Ayanda Dlodlo is re­veal­ing the chal­leng­ing task fac­ing her. “It’s been crazy but I am en­joy­ing it,” she says.

Al­though she has no ex­pe­ri­ence in broad­cast­ing save for a three month stint at Ra­dio Free­dom while in ex­ile, Dlodlo said the rapidly chang­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions ter­rain was new to her.

“It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent area of work for me,” said Dlodlo, the for­mer Deputy Min­is­ter of Public Ser­vice and Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But her vi­sion, con­fi­dently ex­plained in a tele­phone in­ter­view, is clear.

“Part of my con­tri­bu­tion to gov­ern­ment is to pro­vide South Africa with a much­needed com­mu­ni­ca­tions en­vi­ron­ment that is open to learn­ing and mak­ing in­formed choices, mak­ing it eas­ier for peo­ple to ac­cess op­por­tu­ni­ties, and show­case the African di­as­pora. That is what I want peo­ple to re­ceive from gov­ern­ment,” she said.

“South Africa as a coun­try has a choice ei­ther to be a sig­nif­i­cant player in the global tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment or be the re­cip­i­ent and con­sumer who trails be­hind in­no­va­tion. It might be too late to po­si­tion our­selves as lead­ers, how­ever there is scope to be a mean­ing­ful player.

“Not to as­sert our­selves in the in­no­va­tion and de­vel­op­ment en­gine room will ren­der us vul­ner­a­ble to global eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances,” she added.

Mind­ful of the chal­lenges, par­tic­u­larly legacy is­sues in­her­ited from her pre­de­ces­sor Faith Muthambi, al­though she did not speak about her cab­i­net col­league, one of Dlodlo’s first steps was to re­verse Muthambi’s pol­icy moves on en­cryp­tion of set-top boxes.

Dlodlo said it was ANC pol­icy and that she was re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing poli­cies of the rul­ing party.

“In this in­stance, all my work is to en­sure that ANC poli­cies see the light of day… when it comes to en­cryp­tion, I have no author­ity to de­vi­ate,” she said.

The min­is­ter said pol­icy pro­pos­als, how­ever, would be dis­cussed at the ANC con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber.

Re­fer­ring to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court out­come on June 8 which ruled that the gov­ern­ment did not act un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally when it de­cided un­der Muthambi to im­ple­ment a pol­icy of un­en­crypted dig­i­tal ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion.

Muthambi was crit­i­cised by the court for not ex­plain­ing her de­ci­sion to switch from an en­crypted sys­tem to an un­en­crypted sys­tem. But Dlodlo said the court rul­ing was not about whether or not to en­crypt.

“The judg­ment spoke to the author­ity of cab­i­net and min­is­ters to change pol­icy de­ci­sions.

I don’t be­lieve that the im­per­a­tive to change was nec­es­sar­ily there and the court did not say whether en­cryp­tion is good or not.

“But I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to take ra­tio­nal de­ci­sions, and the po­si­tion has not changed with the ANC,” she added.

Dlodo re­mains com­mit­ted to en­sure that the roll-out of set-top boxes is ex­pe­dited as part of the min­istry’s dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion push, which she be­lieves is a ma­jor game changer on sev­eral fronts. On Mon­day, she said the Dig­i­tal Mi­gra­tion Coun­cil met to out­line its plans.

But the coun­try has missed the 2015 In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Union dead­line to switch its sig­nal to dig­i­tal, mean­ing that by us­ing the ana­logue sig­nal, peo­ple liv­ing in bor­der ar­eas could ex­pe­ri­ence sig­nal in­ter­rup­tions.

But Dlodlo said sig­nif­i­cant progress has been made in the dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion process de­spite de­lays. Al­ready, the ana­logue sig­nal had been switched off in 88 bor­der­line towns in seven prov­inces and the sig­nal would be switched off in in­land prov­inces by the 2019/20 fi­nan­cial year. Dlodlo re­vealed that she has been en­gag­ing with mo­bile op­er­a­tors – and broad­cast­ers – around the en­hance­ment of ser­vices and dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion that is cru­cial for free­ing up broad­band spec­trum to boost con­nec­tiv­ity. “If we are look­ing at re­duc­ing costs, we need to en­sure that there is spec­trum, and this re­sides with broad­cast­ers, and they are very happy to be on board,” she said. The Min­is­ter is ex­cited about the op­por­tu­ni­ties on the hori­zon once dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion is achieved, say­ing it brings po­ten­tial for more chan­nels on tele­vi­sion, en­sur­ing that the broad­cast­ing land­scape could be­come a money-spin­ner, like tourism. “I can­not see why we can­not have a 24 -hour sports chan­nel or a Univer­sity chan­nel on the SABC but for that to hap­pen, we need con­tent. I can­not de­velop con­tent, we need peo­ple for that.

“It’s much broader than the tech­nol­ogy, and speaks to her­itage and cul­ture, not just in South Africa but within the SADC, and fol­low­ing an agree­ment to work with the re­gion, we be­lieve that we can be­come the driver of the dig­i­tal mi­gra­tion econ­omy.

“Dur­ing this past year we have ac­cel­er­ated our work of en­sur­ing that our peo­ple de­rive ben­e­fits from the com­mu­ni­ca­tion div­i­dend.

There is every rea­son to be con­fi­dent in our future prospects and work­ing to­gether we can en­sure that more South Africans de­rive ben­e­fits from the com­mu­ni­ca­tion space at ac­ces­si­ble and rea­son­able cost,” she said.

Asked about her stew­ard­ship of the SABC, Dlodlo said the noise has calmed down but there is “so much work to be done” with ap­point­ments of se­nior lead­er­ship – a chief ex­ec­u­tive, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer and chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer – among her pri­or­i­ties.

“I want peo­ple with proven ex­pe­ri­ence of turn­ing around or­gan­i­sa­tions.”

Rel­a­tively fresh in her ten­ure, un­like her pre­de­ces­sor whose crit­ics say took South Africa back­wards in the dig­i­tal space, Dlodlo is mak­ing the right noise, tak­ing South Africa for­ward with greater un­der­stand­ing of the job to be done.

In a let­ter to Dlodlo on May 10, Demo­cratic Al­liance MP, Marian Shinn, told the min­is­ter she has noted with “some joy your ut­ter­ances, re: breath­ing life into the Broad­cast­ing Dig­i­tal Mi­gra­tion process. This es­sen­tial pro­gramme to free up the air­waves to de­liver dig­i­tal in­clu­sion to all South Africans, no mat­ter how re­mote, must be fast tracked.

“I am broadly sup­port­ive of the pro­gramme but have been crit­i­cal about those as­pects of its im­ple­men­ta­tion that I felt were pro­tect­ing the mar­kets of pre­ferred in­cum­bents in the broad­cast­ing space, or that were be­ing de­layed be­cause of in­com­pe­tence and cor­rup­tion.”

Lu­cien Pierce, a part­ner with Phukubje Pierce Ma­sithela At­tor­neys, said Dlodlo’s stance on en­cryp­tion was the best route to go, and pro­vides cer­tainty to a sec­tor that has been wrecked by un­cer­tainty dur­ing the Muthambi era.

“If you look at the state ICT strat­egy, the in­ten­tion is to have lots of dif­fer­ent ser­vices, ie E-gov­er­nance and if these de­vices have en­cryp­tion, they can be of­fered se­curely. There is great em­pha­sis now on the ICT sec­tor, ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple, de­vel­op­ers, con­tent providers, and they will ben­e­fit from the cer­tainty Dlodlo brings. I am con­fi­dent it will re­main af­ter the ANC con­fer­ence, there will be con­fu­sion if we de­vi­ate,” he warned. Wil­liam Bird, of

Direc­tor Me­dia Mon­i­tor­ing Africa, said the en­cryp­tion an­nounce­ment by the min­is­ter was “pretty sig­nif­i­cant” as her pre­de­ces­sor was hell-bent on go­ing against what the ANC or­dered.

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