Opening address by Deputy Minister of Communications, Honourable Obed Bapela, MP, at Southern African Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) at the East London International Conference Centre
5 Sep 2011
Programme Director, Ms Nombulelo Moholi
Telkom Group CEO Conference Chairperson
Mr Marius Mostert International Telecommunications Union International Delegates Africa’s ICT Industry Leaders Representatives from Academic Institutions Representatives of the Private Sector and Business at large
Ladies and gentlemen
Government is committed to support research, development and innovation initiatives in the Information Communications Technologies (ICT’s) and Satellite sector, which aims to develop a strong base for information society and knowledge economy.
We want to therefore to take this opportunity to congratulate Southern African Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) on its 14th year conference to continue supporting and expanding centres of excellence in universities on building the partnership their have established with various universities in Africa and Globally in the quest for knowledge.
I wish you many more years of excellence, for the contribution you are giving to talent and innovation and for the platform for masters and PHD students to be able to express themselves through the submission of the position papers.
The Department of Communications has established and incubated in it e-Skills Institute, for skills development programme, Institute of Satellite Software Applications which focuses on the development of software engineers by recruiting of students from universities into the skills platform.
The department has an Institute National Electronics Media Institute of South Africa (NEMISA) established in 1973, which trains young people on electronic media, camera handling presentations and now the development of the emanations films across the main stream of broadcasting we do this recognising the need for more skills and innovation in the ICT sector as the theme of the conference is focusing on the social communications.
This Administration is committed to values of the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the Constitution, which guarantees every citizen freedom of expression including freedom to receive or impart information or ideas. The period 2002 to 2004 and beyond is reasonably accepted as the period in which many of the more popular social communication sites and applications ensued; sites such as Friendster, LinkedIn, Mxit, MySpace and Facebook.
As we speak today Facebook has approximately 750 million social communicators’ globally and according to socialmedialogue.com, April 2011 South African users are estimated at four million of which 33% are between the ages of 18 and 24 years. Mxit is reported to be the largest social network in South Africa with an estimated 19 million subscribers.
Now the challenge is to move each one of these users to technology and applications developed in South Africa, for most of the apps; and content; is not from the continent nor our region or country. Also, we need to bring innovation on how to introduce content that can address challenges of access to information such as e-government services; the e-Health or M-Health platform and to use social communication to e-commerce.
I mention these challenges because we have not moved as a nation to adapt the use of technology to deal with our problems and using it to provide solutions. Can we go back to the era; yes in the visual world, bring the veranda into the platform so as neighbour can still talk though in the comfort of their homes. Develop games, our games the indigenous games; in addition to the established codes, such as soccer, rugby, tennis, boxing, cricket, athletics etc.
On mobile; I did look at my blackberry and got Brick Breaker and World Mole (know you can purchase and add; but was looking for morabaraba; diketo; stick fighting; our own kind of everything; (open hands boxing) of Limpopo, and many others; but they are not there; and our traditions and culture are at risk of becoming extinct.
The 2011 Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) theme “Social Communications Challenging the Limits of Technology Innovation”. Gives us an opportunity to reflect on progress made or lack and equally presents us with the opportunity to embark on a journey ensure that majority of citizens have access to internet connectivity and broadband. It is common knowledge to all that broadband infrastructure is an access enabler and with a 10% penetration this is not good for the country.
We have begun a process of reviewing broadband policy and at the simultaneously developing an ICT plan to enable us to connect particularly villages and townships. Government subscribes to the notion that, there are no limits in technology innovation as a result we will construct univocal policies to further enhance market liberalisation, encourage investment in the economy, level the playing field by encouraging new entrants in the market and of course will we do all this in the interest of the public.
It is the best interest of the country to ensure that citizens do communicate amongst themselves and with other people elsewhere in world. Only through communication we will mould better relationship and actually find one another as a diverse nation as espouse by our motto: diverse people unite”.
Today, the ICT industry which includes communication, with its highly converged networks finds itself as the enabler for what is rapidly becoming a new generation of ICT users. As a result of this new breed of communication medium the social communication generation has resuscitated the way communication in the mediaeval ages used to and put in an electronic platform, social communication has been sporadic and organised led by chiefs or headman in villages to transmitted issues affecting the community.
The nicest phenomenon of this generation is that it does not have an age range but actually covers all ages, from very young to very old. Anyone who can use modern ICT technology and its associated applications to effectively communicate is automatically an active member of this "social communication generation".
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Ministry of Communications is on the correct path of developing vivid policy guidelines which will see us migrating from analogue to digital communication platform to an extent that social media platforms becomes a reality for all citizens. Borrowing from the words of Martin Baily, who said, "Powerful new technologies provide great benefits, but they also change the way we live, and not always in ways that everyone likes.
An example is the spread of Facebook, which makes us more comfortable, but those who grew up before its invention speak fondly of a time when everyone sat on the front veranda and talked to their neighbours”. As government’s continues to support open and transparent communications platforms it has a responsibility to protect its citizens from dangers of cybercrime.
Soon will be finalising policy on cybercrime. What is of great concern to us is the high cost of communication in this country and we urge industry to attend to this matter urgently as it cannot be business as usual when it comes cost for communications.
Almost two decades of market liberalisation, the cost of telecommunication and broadband services still remains high compared to some of our counterparts in both the developed and developing countries. Majority of our people in the particularly those in rural areas are still at the periphery of accessing broadband services. This digital divide cannot persist if we intend to prosper as a nation. It is common knowledge that South Africa is the most unequal society in the world.
It is incumbent amongst to stop describing this situation rather to change it. With these new cadres of Master and Doctoral candidates and incumbents in our midst, I have no doubt in my mind that the days of only describing South Africa conditions are over – now is the time to change our country for the better. I believe amongst you we have innovators and entrepreneurs and not job seekers.
Now is the time; that some of these electronic communications devices must be developed and manufactured in the country, with fully functioning factory and not a screwdriver factory. We cannot emphasise further that the time is now that we become a nation of innovators. I believe the electronics industry is fully aware of the needs of the end users’ here at home and in the continent.
This is not about just manufacturing, rather is also about ensuring that we procure our goods and services locally. Job creation is our responsibility and supporting small and medium business will accelerate our endeavours to create five millions jobs 2020 in various sectors of the economy.
In today’s economic environment companies need to collaborate and partner in order to maximise the economic scale. This approach will help companies together with government to rollout broadband infrastructure in poor communities whereby a win-win situation is created. This might also help in human capital investment through re-skilling of our personnel and create new job creation.
Through the department’s e-skills Institute the department is establishing five Provincial Hubs in partnership and collaboration with the academia, civil society and industry as we prepare an information society for the knowledge economy. In the spirit of convergence, fellow South Africans lets work together for the interest and betterment of our country. In July we held a workshop with thirty top ICT companies and I glad to report that we have agreed that by 2020 we must achieve 100% broadband penetration and 100% access for all.
In conclusion, I urge all South African ICT engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs to challenge the limits of technical innovation so that all South Africans can positively benefit from the opportunities that social communications can provide them.
I can assure that the policy space is going to improve to enable us to meet the developmental path this administration set for itself as you will begin to the glass as half full and not half empty.
But, it is clear that future economies will be dependent upon information, and that this information will be exchanged through robust communication and affordable medium.
Government will be investing RX billion in ICT infrastructure rollout in the forthcoming medium term expenditure framework. But with every invention or innovation they come with new threats and in such is the security of networks and cybercrime or as is translated; e-theft or e-crime.
Last week, I attended a meeting of Internet users, called the Internet Governance Forum; (National and Southern African Development Community) delegates are busy looking at ways to access internet, but deal with challenges and dangers of harmful elements and also looking at innovation ways. I have been assigned the portfolio of cyber-security and wish to invite your kind selves as specialists to assist us determine whether we should regulate applications such as BBM within the context of cyber security.
I invite you to converse on this matter beginning today to assist us shape the policy and regulatory framework which best respond to environment. Together we can do more in building sustainable communities.
All the best with your deliberations!
Issued by: Department of Communications
5 Sep 2011
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