SA Connect phase two will work, says minister

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 13 Sept 2023
Mondli Gungubele, minister in the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. (Photograph by DCDT)
Mondli Gungubele, minister in the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. (Photograph by DCDT)

Government concedes it can’t implement phase two of its ambitious SA Connect broadband project without help.

This, as the state continues to be faced with fiscal challenges, according to communications minister Mondli Gungubele, speaking to media this week on the sidelines of GovTech 2023.

In the February National Budget, it was revealed the communications ministry, charged with implementing SA Connect, will receive R3 billion in the 2023/24 and 2024/25 financial years, to implement phase two of the project.

Yesterday, Gungubele once again indicated his Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) will rollout connectivity to the value of R3 billion during the aforementioned years.

However, R3 billion over the medium-term is not enough, he stated, especially taking into account the required pace, connectivity, scale and global challenges.

“My call upon our team is that we must be developmental technocrats. In other words, if each of you’ve got one billion rand in government, the partnership you establish must bring in R100 billion. Those who bring their billions, you must make a business case from which they make a difference in as far as their missions are concerned.

“As South Africa, we cannot be left behind…connectivity is a need of all South Africans. It’s in the interest of business that all South Africans must be connected, because the kind of market they anticipate depends on the access people have.

“Partnerships are what we are going to need to make things possible. Our government has fiscal challenge, so now we need innovative collaboration.

“The pooling of public sector demand and procuring of high-capacity and future-proof network capacity at more affordable rates to address public sector broadband requirements cannot be underestimated.

“A developmental state is not purely theory; it’s how we facilitate an environment, taking into account all the participants and nudging them in the direction so that all our resources are actually put together.”

In the making since 2013, SA Connect is the national broadband programme initiated by government to ensure universal access to broadband services for all South Africans, initially prioritising rural and underserviced areas.

Due to the magnitude of the project, the state determined it should be implemented in two stages.

In phase one, it aimed to connect schools, health facilities, government offices, Thusong Service Centres and post offices, in eight rural district municipalities, to broadband services.

According to Gungubele, SA Connect phase one connected nearly 1 000 government facilities − a pace he said he is not comfortable with.

“Phase two involves SITA [State IT Agency] upgrading and connecting government sites from existing budgets and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa imposing universal service obligations on mobile network operators to connect 18 036 schools, 3 873 health facilities and 8 241 traditional authority sites.

“The communications department, supported by state‐owned entities such as SITA, Broadband Infraco and Sentech, are crucial to provide broadband connectivity to government facilities. Our aim is to connect 5.8 million sites to high-speed internet by 2025/26, as part of the phase two rollout of SA Connect.”

As to whether SA Connect is the best approach to achieve universal broadband access, the minister stated: “Once it’s fully implemented, it’s going to work. We’ve made a lot of interventions this year, which we hope once they take off are going to make a difference.

“The money is not enough, but the little at our disposal must make the difference proportionate to its capability and so forth. SA Connect will work.”

GovTech is the annual ICT conference hosted by SITA, in partnership with the DCDT, and is taking place this week in KwaZulu-Natal.