TechAfrica News Exclusive: How South Africa Plans to Close the Connectivity Gap

Hello, I’m Chris Green, Chief Editor for TechAfrica News, reporting from the final day of AfricaCom 2023. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani from the Ministry of Communications & Digital Technology. Thank you for joining us. The minister inaugurated the Africa Tech Festival on Tuesday.

What are your thoughts on the event this year?

Thank you, Chris. The event has been growing impressively. Recognizing its significance, our department has escalated its involvement from occasional collaboration to a full partnership. AfricaCom uniquely brings together private sector, government, industry players, think tanks, academia, and the entire vendor supply chain. Given Africa’s challenges in digital connectivity and application deployment, this platform is vital.

This year, we observed increased participation from ministries and governments of various countries, demonstrating responsiveness beyond just tech solutions. Countries facing energy crises, like South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana, see potential solutions under the African Continental Free Trade framework, exportable to other markets.

Indeed, challenges in connectivity are not exclusive to South Africa. Having visited South Africa since 2000, I’ve witnessed substantial changes. A key concern is digital inclusion, where 60% of Africa’s population is excluded from the digital economy due to infrastructure barriers.

How do you envision improving connectivity for the unconnected?

Governments have long grappled with this issue. Initiatives like Cape to Cairo in 2000 and the ICT summit in Kigali in 2007 set objectives for connectivity under the Broadband Commission in 2015. However, government initiatives alone aren’t sufficient. While we set policy directions, private sector collaboration is essential for implementation. Platforms like AfricaCom enable exposure to industry initiatives, fostering collaboration. For instance, addressing the rural connectivity gap requires a different incentive standard, where government-backed broadband infrastructure companies partner with small players to connect the unconnected. We aim for 100% broadband connectivity in South Africa by 2025, currently at 72%.

While we set policy directions, private sector collaboration is essential for implementation. Platforms like AfricaCom enable exposure to industry initiatives, fostering collaboration.

Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani from the Ministry of Communications & Digital Technology, South Africa

Considering the expensive nature of bandwidth and data, especially in rural areas, do you foresee the possibility of dual pricing or two-tier pricing to ensure affordability for all?

Absolutely. Dual pricing is already in play, allowing for competition and avoiding price collusion. In urban areas, where efficiency is crucial, higher prices might accompany faster bandwidth. Conversely, in rural areas, lower prices may coincide with slower speeds, catering to the specific needs of those communities. Additionally, introducing competition through small players in rural areas may impact overall data costs, benefiting both urban and rural consumers.

It’s encouraging to see such initiatives. Shifting gears, the South Africa Connect Phase 2 project, launched in Eastern Cape, caught our attention. Could you share more about this project and its reception?

Certainly. South Africa Connect Phase 2 marks a shift in our approach. Unlike the past 27 years of issuing licenses to operators with obligations to connect underserved areas, the new model involves auctioning spectra with obligations to connect government facilities. Broadband infrastructure companies, such as Sentech and BBI, expand their backhaul, while small players, including ISPs and SMMEs, roll out the last mile. The beneficiaries include communities with little or no network coverage, now gaining access to digital skills, education, and entrepreneurial opportunities. The project aims to bridge the connectivity gap, enabling economic growth and improving overall productivity.

This year, we observed increased participation from ministries and governments of various countries, demonstrating responsiveness beyond just tech solutions. Countries facing energy crises, like South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana, see potential solutions under the African Continental Free Trade framework, exportable to other markets.

Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani from the Ministry of Communications & Digital Technology, South Africa

Your efforts are commendable, and ensuring the wider community is aware of these initiatives is vital. How do you plan to amplify the message and encourage public support?

We recognize the need for a more aggressive media campaign. Partnerships with platforms like TechAfrica News can play a crucial role in disseminating information. We recently briefed the President, who urged us to spread the word further. A robust media campaign, coupled with public awareness, can foster collaboration and help address issues like high data costs. We encourage the public to actively engage with service providers and demand more affordable data, leveraging their power as consumers.

Thank you, Chris. We appreciate the opportunity to share our progress, and we welcome collaborative efforts to drive positive change.

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