• Home
  • /
  • Devices
  • /
  • SONA 2022: ICT industry calls for 'action not promises'

SONA 2022: ICT industry calls for 'action not promises'

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 10 Feb 2022
President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver the annual SONA at Cape Town City Hall this evening.
President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver the annual SONA at Cape Town City Hall this evening.

While the president has often made mention of ICT sector-related matters in the State of the Nation Address (SONA), industry commentators don’t have high expectations for this evening.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will give an assessment of the state of the nation and present plans for the coming year when he addresses the public this evening.

SONA, which will for the first time be held outside of Parliament’s precincts, will be a hybrid joint sitting of the two houses – the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces.

With many of South Africa’s socio-economic, political and corruption challenges set to take centre stage tonight, expectations from an ICT perspective are “pretty low”, says Mark Walker, associate VP for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC MEA.

Given budget constraints, Walker says issues related to social, energy provision, transport and rescuing state-owned entities and political issues will be prioritised.

“Unless technology can be deployed to support or improve on these issues, it will likely be relegated to a low priority,” he says. “Not sure how much will be left for SA Connect.”

Professor Martin Butler, head of teaching and learning and associate professor for digital enterprise management at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, also has low expectations.

“Like previous SONAs, I expect the president to be vague on ICT-related matters,” states Butler. “When it features, it will be somewhere between wishful thinking and vagueness in how execution and control will work. The current administration, and president, in particular, mostly played a head-in-the-sand game for some of the biggest ICT challenges and digital inequalities that continue to face our country.”

Thecla Mbongue, senior research analyst for Middle East and Africa at global research and consultancy firm Omdia, points out there’s usually not much ICT expectation from the SONA speech, except a summary of the sector’s major KPIs (revenues, number of users) and the directions for the coming year.

“We could also expect the speech to include a reference to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the sector,” Mbongue notes.

“In terms of KPIs, the sector has recorded growth in the number of users (mobile telephony and broadband connectivity) and revenues. The sector is indeed boosted by increased coverage and a high-demand in connectivity. The COVID-19 crisis had a positive impact on the growth due to consumers and businesses integrating habits such as remote working and e-commerce.”

Spectrum action

Ramaphosa’s SONA takes place during a legal tussle around the country’s spectrum allocation process.

The allocation of spectrum by means of an auction is at the forefront of the state’s economic reforms, as it is expected to add billions of rand to the fiscus.

Furthermore, spectrum will help mobile operators provide faster and more widespread high-speed data services. On the consumer front, it would mean making affordable data available to firms and households.

The commentators concur SONA must spark some action regarding spectrum.

Says Walker: “Hopefully, the spectrum allocation will be accelerated and 5G, etc, can be deployed. Digital TV is finally getting traction. It’s good to see progress, even though it’s so desperately late and slow.”

He adds it’s imperative to have an actual plan to salvage some of the communications ministry’s ailing entities − the SA Post Office and SABC, for example.

Mbongue explains: “We should hear about the long-awaited spectrum auction to take place next month. Once allocated, the frequencies will mostly be used for 4G and 5G network rollout, reinforcing broadband networks’ capacity and coverage, as well as enabling telecoms operators to rollout equipment more efficiently and save costs.

“The main expectation from this auction is that as telecom companies save cost on network deployment and network management, there should be a positive outcome on the cost of service for consumers, leading to a drop in data tariffs. The country’s telecoms market leaders, such as Vodacom or MTN, have in the past regularly blamed part of their inability to lower data tariffs on the lack of spectrum.”

Butler adds that action is required on digital skills education, the increasing cyber security risk, and for the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies to move the multiple multi-year projects on the table forward.

“The president must increase the digital literacy and competency of the government agencies and embrace the operational efficiencies that well-implemented ICT systems hold for them.”

Professor Martin Butler, University of Stellenbosch Business School.
Professor Martin Butler, University of Stellenbosch Business School.

Walker believes the sector would like to see a focus on rollout of affordable access to IT-based citizen services, especially in education, citizen services at municipal, provincial and national level, and healthcare.

“The digital divide is a savage problem, as demonstrated during COVID, and it only widened in the last two years – healthcare and education and remote working opportunities are worlds apart if you’re poor. Government has to close that gap, by sorting out spectrum, prioritising access, and mandating digital milestones for the Department of Health and Department of Basic Education.

“Also, Ramaphosa should issue a moratorium on any long-term white papers. Stop the cycles of five-year posturing, and start demanding semi-annual accountability. Start firing ministers who fail to hit milestones, and hire ones who know what their department is actually for,” comments Walker.

Butler concludes: “The ICT sector, which has always been resilient, will flourish when energy, safety, education and health are addressed. We are used to being the poor cousin and will continue to fight for ourselves; please help the rest of the struggling economy since we are dependent on them more than we are on the state.”