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South Africa’s satellite ‘ready’ for take-off, says minister

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Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. (Image source: Twitter)
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. (Image source: Twitter)

To enhance broadband connectivity reach and in line with a 2016 Cabinet decision, South Africa is now ready to launch its own communications satellite.

This is according to communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, presenting her ministry’s 2022/2023 budget vote during a virtual plenary session of the National Assembly.

Yesterday, Ntshavheni’s Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) was among the many ministries detailing the budgets and work of their departments for the financial year to the Parliamentary committees.

The minister told MPs of the portfolio committee on communications that the country’s satellite will be launched through state signal distributor Sentech, in partnership with the South African National Space Agency and all other key stakeholders.

Ntshavheni didn’t elaborate on the details, but indicated: “The communications satellite will address both media and broadband connectivity objectives and will entrench our technology and data sovereignty.

“This will reduce satellite capacity leasing costs, not only for government but other industries reliant on communication satellite technology for their businesses, and improve information security for our country.”

South Africa’s broadband connectivity ambitions through satellite were previously alluded to by the communications ministry’s former minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

During the AfricaCom 2017 conference, Ndabeni-Abrahams said the department was looking into satellite technology as a possible way to bring internet connectivity to all South Africans.

When looking at long-term investment plans for SA's broadband rollout, satellite technology is a possibility to aid where terrestrial networks are unable to provide connectivity, Ndabeni-Abrahams noted at the time.

Neighbouring country Zimbabwe also reportedly has plans to launch its own satellite. Last September, reports surfaced that the Southern African nation’s first satellite, called ZimSat, was being assembled by the country’s engineers, with the launch expected this year.

For the 2022/23 financial year, the communications department’s total budget is R2.7 billion, said the minister.

The budget, she stated, is dedicated to the work of the DCDT and its entities, and plans it will undertake to bridge the digital divide and build an inclusive digital economy.

Ntshavheni revealed that 11% of the budget is dedicated to employee salaries, while goods and services will receive 16% of the budget.

The minister indicated 72% of the budget is allocated to transfers and subsidies to the department’s eight entities.

In terms of the goods and services budget for infrastructure projects, SA Connect phase one is allocated R239 million, which will go towards the maintenance of connected sites, according to the minister.

For the completion of the broadcasting digital migration (BDM) programme, the department has allocated R88.7 million.

“The remainder of the goods and services budget becomes R111.8 million,” she said, adding that “phase two of SA Connect will be funded through the Infrastructure Fund for the first year. The allocations for the outer years will be provided for from the national fiscus of the National Treasury.”

Ntshavheni explained the budget does not make transfer provisions to Sentech for the migration of digital signals and dual-illumination costs relating to the digital migration.

This is because the DCDT has achieved 100% digital network coverage and satisfied all BDM policy conditions and regulatory requirements that warrant the end of the dual-illumination period.

“The broadcast digital migration process is a critical digital transformation step that redefines the ICT path for South Africa,” the minister stated.

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