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Ndabeni-Abrahams backtracks, appoints sixth ICASA councillor

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Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) council will soon have a complete membership of nine councillors, including its chairperson.

This after communications and digital technologies minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, did a U-turn on her earlier decision to only appoint five new ICASA councillors that were sworn earlier this week.

To join the remaining councillors, Ndabeni-Abrahams appointed Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng, who has been appointed chairperson of the council, Peter Zimri, Luthando Mkumathela, Yolisa Kedama and Dr Charles Lewis.

However, missing from her list of appointees was a sixth member to round up the nine-member decision-making body.

Now, in a letter addressed to National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise, the minister confirms that five new members were appointed by notice in the Government Gazette on 24 August 2020.

She also backtracks on the decision not to appoint a sixth ICASA council member, writing: “With regards to the appointment of the sixth (and final) councillor, we remain mindful of the National Assembly’s reservations with the ministry’s recommended candidate, and preference for a different candidate.

“In this regard, the ministry hereby recommends Mr Zolani Matthews to be appointed to serve as the ICASA councillor.”

Matthews was among the initial 10 names referred to by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications to the minister in order of priority, a move that reportedly did not sit well with her.

The names included Modimoeng, Kedama, Matthews, Zimri, Mkutumela, Lewis, Amanda Cuba, Sandisiwe Ncemane, Dikeledi Mushi and Ashraf Patel.

Ndabeni-Abrahams submitted three letters to Modise’s office, raising a number of concerns about the recommended candidates, including, but not limited to, the skills set of some of them, as well as a request to accept only four of the 10 shortlisted names.

She initially requested the appointment of ICASA councillors be staggered, with her only choosing four out of the 10 recommended names.

In another letter, the minister added two names to the initial four potential appointees, saying this is in case the committee decides to proceed with six candidates.

The speaker referred the minister’s concerns for consideration to the committee, which saw MPs stand firm in their decision that six candidates be appointed to the ICASA council.

MP and Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister of communications and digital technologies, Phumzile Van Damme, maintains that Ndabeni-Abrahams must go, especially in light of the appointments debacle.

“Her backtracking follows the DA beginning the process to have her subjected to disciplinary action in Parliament for contravening the Constitution, ICASA Act, the Executive Members’ Act and the Powers and Privileges Act,” Van Damme says

“Ndabeni-Abrahams’ bizarre and unlawful conduct during the appointment process to fill six vacancies on the ICASA council has been nothing short of embarrassing.

“That she remains a minister is tragic. We, therefore, reiterate our call for the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to fire her.

“Should she remain minister, the DA fears that South Africa’s goal to grow and support the digital economy will be put at risk. With the potential help raise South Africa’s GDP by almost $12 billion, elevating current GDP by 3.1%, the sector requires a minister with a head firmly set on shoulders.”

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