Nyanda, Pule take reigns at communications ministry

The appointment of former SA National Defense Force chief Siphiwe Nyanda as communications minister has left analysts and observers wondering if President Jacob Zuma had appointed an able administrator or a “securocrat”.

Nyanda has been a vocal supporter of Zuma during his various trials and the battle for power between him and former President Thabo Mbeki.

During Nyanda’s tenure as chief of the SANDF, the controversial “Arms Deal” was signed and he held several business interests including those in security companies and is currently head of arms brokerage firm Ngwane that sells military items such as armoured vehicles and small arms on behalf of several local manufacturers.

ITWeb reports his deputy minister is Dina Pule, member of the African national Congress’ innermost working core, its National Working Committee and is considered a “pragmatic leftist”, by party members. Pule made a name for herself in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature holding several executive council appointments including that of safety and security and agriculture.

While industry sources know Nyanda by reputation, very few, if any, had heard of Pule who made her name as a grass roots politician. Both will be sworn into office at a ceremony to take place at the Union Buildings in Pretoria today (Monday).

They take over a department that has developed a reputation for being dysfunctional and that has remained out of touch with the sector it is supposed to work with. Furthermore the department needs a new director general, the highest ranking public servant as the previous incumbent, Lyndall Shope-Mafole, left office this year to become a member of the Congress of the People party and is now a member of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature.

Many of its projects such as the Universal Service Access Licensees, Guidelines for the Rapid Deployment of Infrastructure (that is supposed to regulate the landing of undersea cables), the entire policy of “managed liberalisation”, the discount for schools to obtain Internet connectivity, and the migration from analogue to digital TV broadcasting are either in disarray, incomplete or are facing slipping timelines.

Although considered by many to be one of the junior cabinet posts, the Ministry of Communications has some of the country’s most important state-owned enterprises within its portfolio. These include national signal distributor Sentech, the SA Post Office, the Universal Services and Access Agency of SA and it is the shareholder representative for Telkom.

Constitutionally protected regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) is also part of the portfolio.

Differing priorities

Independent political commentator Damian Silke says the two main priorities of the new communications ministers would be to continue the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector and to restore public confidence in the SA Broadcasting Corporation.

“Telecommunications is critical for the development of the country and the new minister would be well advised to continue with the rapid liberalization of the sector,” Silke says. “He (Nyanda) should really embark on a program that promotes and accelerates the roll out of broadband throughout the country.”

Dene Smuts, former communications spokesperson for the official opposition the Democratic Alliance says she has been left with a sense of unease by Nyanda’s appointment.

“His appointment certainly implies that there is a definite strategic approach being adopted throughout government, but one wonders if it is the best approach. Will he, for instance, be able to resist the temptation of meddling with the regulator (ICASA),” she says.

Smuts says her party will be appointing a new communications spokesperson later this week as the veteran politician will be moving to another parliamentary portfolio.

Two members of the ANC, who asked that their names not be used say privately they are surprised by the appointments.

“While we expected the ICT sector to not be a high priority, there was a sense that the new minister would be someone whom the sector would know. This means that we will have another minister who is dependent on advisors,” one said.

The other said that considering the new make up of the communications ministry the priorities may not be what most expect.

“As a former military man Nyanda has a natural leaning towards the security aspects of communications,” the source says. “This means that he will readily understand tweaking and altering legislation relating to that such as the Electronic Communications and Transaction Act and the Regulations for the Interception of Communications Act, rather than re-working the Electronic Communications Act,” the source says.