Memo to Communications Minister: Tech and innovation required to turn around national dinosaurs

Solly Malatsi has been appointed to head the country’s Communications Ministry. Picture Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Solly Malatsi has been appointed to head the country’s Communications Ministry. Picture Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Published Jul 2, 2024


The South African Communications Ministry for the first time is led by a young person in the form of Solly Malatsi. The youthful factor alone is enough to suggest that there’s change on its way for organisations such as the (1) SABC, (2) SA Post Office, and (3) State Information Technology Agency (Sita).

He will face tough issues that require maturity and leadership with youthful flair.

He will be faced with the challenge of taking the SABC into the future, something that requires a young leader with imagination. The SABC is a dinosaur that has remained with the same infrastructure developed during the old order.

In recent years the entity has tried to introduce innovations such as the SABC Plus app, however, this is not enough to make the national broadcaster relevant for the future.

Malatsi will have to turn SABC into a revenue-generating digital platform of the future. In media, the SABC is probably one of the future entities with the muscle to create the most powerful digital giant on the African continent by just using technology and start-up thinking.

The same can be said about the the South African Post Office (Sapo). This critical entity is in ICU currently, however, it can still survive. A youthful mindset and leadership is exactly what Sapo needs to create the Post Office of the future. This could include the development of a Digital South Africa that enables citizens to interact with the government and businesses through the use of apps on their mobile devices.

Sapo could could achieve this through the creation of the national app economy to enable access to government services. Malatsi has an opportunity of creating a completely different Post Office by leveraging the current infrastructure for citizens to access digital tools for communications and other critical services.

The digital transformation that can be enabled by the youthful leadership of Malatsi at the SABC and Sapo could be made possible by another entity under his wing, Sita.

The national technology infrastructure is Sita and through it the minister has the weapon to turn around not just the communications portfolio but the entire country. The databases of the country which could one day enable Artificial Intelligences for health, agriculture and other portfolios are managed by Sita.

This national technology giant, Sita is the only one that could enable the SABC and Sapo to become relevant entities in the future.

The communications ministry under Malatsi can become the catalyst required by South Africa to survive. He must, however, be careful of touching Telkom, which is one of the semi-government entities that is showing signs of survival.

The ministry ought to be careful of taking the privatisation approach with entities such as the SABC and Sapo. These are national assets that need to serve without creating a structure that will restrict access for all. The SABC, Sapo and Sita can still survive with the right focus on technology and leadership that appreciates innovation.

In addition to Sita as an enabler, Malatsi has a capable technology start-up ecosystem in South Africa that he can rely on to turn around ailing entities that need a technology boost.

If he does, South Africa will become one of the most innovative countries on the continent by just infusing technology and innovation on current national entities that are in trouble right now. Malatsi can become the face of innovation in the government if he focuses on the future.

Wesley Diphoko is a technology analyst. He has been working at the intersection of technology and media as the Editor of FastCompany (SA) magazine. Follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko