South Africa celebrates 30 years of ICT wins

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 29 Apr 2024
Minister Mondli Gungubele, speaking at the DCDT’s celebration of 30 years of collaboration and growth in the ICT industry.
Minister Mondli Gungubele, speaking at the DCDT’s celebration of 30 years of collaboration and growth in the ICT industry.

The South African ICT industry has been recognised for its efforts to advance communication services and economic growth over the last 30 years.

However, burning issues remain, such as more agile and flexible policies, inclusion of SMMEs, the sector’s transformation, cheaper data costs, connectivity for all and regulation of online shopping platforms.

This was shared during an event hosted on Friday by the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), to reflect on 30 years of collaboration and growth in the ICT industry, and what needs to be done to move the needle forward.

Attended by captains of industry, the DCDT’s leadership and the CEOs of its entities, industry bodies, SME associations, academia, NGOs, as well as key figures within the ICT sector, the event was hosted as part of the 30th Freedom Day celebrations.

SA’s ICT industry has undergone considerable change over the last three decades, said communications minister Mondli Gungubele, recalling a period when ICT tools and handsets were in the hands of a select few, similar to broadcasting services at the time.

Mobile telephony companies Vodacom and MTN launched their services commercially in 1994. Since then, the country’s total mobile cellular subscriptions reached the 108 million mark in 2023, according to ICASA's 2024 State of ICT Sector in SA report. Smartphone subscriptions jumped to more than 74 million during the same period.

According to Stats SA’s 2022 General Household Survey, the national percentage of households with internet access from any location decreased from 77.5% in 2021 to 75.3% in 2022. However, there was an increase in the proportion of households with internet access specifically at home, rising from 10.4% in 2021 to 13% in 2022.

With SA marking 30 years of freedom at the weekend, much is also to be celebrated in the ICT industry, said Gungubele.

From a departmental standpoint, the minister reflected on key projects like SA Connect, digital migration, set-top box rollout, spectrum allocation and the launch of the public broadcaster’s SABC+ platform.

“The telecommunications industry has played an immense role in connecting South Africans and connecting SA to the world. The development of technology in the form of telecoms came at a time when our democracy was dawning. It gave the young democratic government the opportunity to mould this country in a way that reflected our Constitutional values and the desires of our people.

“We have arrived at the peak of the mountain after hiking it for the past three decades. In moulding this sector, we have built the ICT industry to one that plays a critical role in our development and economic growth. With a market estimated at R320 billion, we have created thousands of jobs and seen to major infrastructure development.

“With this current trajectory, we are confident the next 30 years will see even more growth in this country.”

He noted the ICT industry’s immense role in building the country’s economy and empowering people cannot be understated.

DCDT deputy minister Philly Mapulane added: “As we reflect on the past 30 years, we cannot help but marvel at the incredible strides that we have made in the telecommunications and ICT industry. From the introduction of mobile phones, to the rollout of broadband infrastructure, we have witnessed the transformative impact of digital technologies on every aspect of our lives.

“Today, SA boasts a vibrant ICT industry that serves as the cornerstone of our economy, creating jobs, driving innovation and connecting our nation to the world. The ICT industry holds the key to unlocking the true potential of our nation’s human capital.”

Mapulane emphasised that SA’s digital transformation journey must ensure no one is left behind and that every citizen has the opportunity to benefit from the opportunities afforded by the digital era.

“This means investing in digital skills, fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, creating an enabling regulatory environment – one that encourages investment and competition – and ensuring investments in digital infrastructure.

“The future of ICT in the next 30 years holds immense promise and potential for transformative changes across various domains.”

Industry bodies − including the Association of Comms and Technology (ACT), Digital Council Africa, Black Business Council, Internet Service Providers' Association and SMME ICT Chamber − congratulated the DCDT and ICT industry players for their work in advancing the country’s digital evolution.

Nomvuyiso Batyi, CEO of ACT, said 30 years ago, collaboration was the key approach to advance the sector. “The then-postal communications department took the lead in making sure we are digitalised as a country.

“During those years, we had minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri – she served for the longest time as minister in the ICT space – and she made sure that throughout the journey there was collaboration. She would make sure all the different stakeholders are in the same room.

“It is very important that as we move forward…we do so in partnership and collaboration with the sector. There are new business models that are here to disrupt our sector; we are seeing new players coming into SA that are not being licensed or paying taxes. We are saying to the minister and the policymakers: let us work together. We are reaffirming our commitment to working with the department.

“Together, we can continue building a vibrant and inclusive digital economy that benefits all stakeholders. We need approaches that are fit-for-purpose, insofar as the policymaking space that we are in at this point.

“We need policies that are flexible and agile enough to make sure everyone that is part of this ecosystem is included.”