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Department of Crony Capitalism

Chris Barron of the Sunday Times went in search of meaningful answers from the director general of communications. He found none, but published what he heard anyway. (Hat tip:

What he heard is quite staggering. About new undersea cables, which South Africa desperately needs, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, the DG in question, is quoted as saying:

“There are those who assume they can come, wholly foreign-owned, and land in South Africa. We are saying, ‘no’.”

When she says “we”, she’s not speaking for South African citizens, of course. Nor for South African businesses. They would benefit greatly from cheap international bandwidth provided by ruthless foreign competitors.

It therefore follows that she’s speaking for the crony capitalists that get all the sweet deals from the Department of Communications. Companies such as Sentech (wholly government owned), iBurst (which got a sweet-deal no-bid licence a decade ago), Infraco (the latest communist boondoggle, tasked with competing the private sector out of business), Telkom (of which the government still owns more than one-third), and Neotel (whose shareholders were carefully selected and approved by the government). They are the only ones that would be harmed by competition, after all.

Of course, the facts fall apart since most proposed cables actually do have local participation. But no. Apparently, richer companies can offer lower prices, because “the globe is basically based on a capitalist system”, which is unfair. Not to South Africa, but to Ethiopia, which since last week falls within the Department of Communinvasion’s ambit. Therefore, the government will tell private investors to take a hike and spend billions belonging to South African taxpayers instead.

Socialised bandwidth for all, she cries, while failing to deliver even basic services. “Infraco is there to ensure that we are served, the country as a whole,” she says, while “the majority of South African taxpayers”, who “are not served by these private companies”, riot in the streets because they are not served by the government.

“It is our responsibility to promote our sector and make sure that our sector is globally competitive.”

Nobody would argue with that. But if this is her department’s responsibility, why is the local sector still so uncompetitive?

“It is actually doing very well,” she said, sounding offended. “We can be very proud of our achievements.”

Excuse me while I wipe the coffee off my screen. Clearly, she’s been at the Department of Cool Aid too long. That she expects us just to swallow this propaganda comes as no surprise when you find that she’s busy with a third reading of Ronald Suresh Robert’s sycophantic paean to Thabo Mbeki, Fit to Govern.

The reasons for abolishing the Department of Collectivist Cretins are piling up fast.

(First published on my own blog, the spike, on September 17 2007.)


  • Ivo Vegter writes and argues for fun and profit. He is a columnist, magazine journalist and apprentice model shipwright. In his spare time, he helps run a research company. He specialises in the tech and telecoms industries, but keeps a blog on politics, economics and other curiosities on the spike