Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane addressing media on the digital migration process. Photo: Jonisayi Maromo / ANA

Pretoria - The South African government on Friday announced steps to join fellow African nations which have migrated to broadcast digital terrestrial television, despite missing the June 2015 target.

"The mere fact that 11 years since Cabinet has approved this project, and we are still this far behind underlines the challenges of the [previous] delivery model.  It will be foolhardy of ourselves to continue on this path and yet there is no progress," Mokonyane told a media briefing in Pretoria, also attended by different stakeholders.

"Again, we have to take into account that the technological landscape has changed relative to the environment when Cabinet approved the project in 2007.  From a government perspective, in particular, the declining public funds is a stark reality which we have to deal with. Therefore, revising the delivery model became inevitable. This is the work that we carried out jointly with the Advisory Council."

A revised delivery model has since been approved by Cabinet and Mokonyane said her department was now putting systems in place to accelerate its implementation.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you will recall that during our maiden Budget Vote speech in Parliament earlier in May, we committed to getting the project back on track so that South Africa can join Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, other countries in International Telecommunications Union's (ITU) Region 1 and some of our BRICS partners who have migrated their broadcasting system to digital," said Mokonyane.

The ITU is a specialist agency tasked by the United Nations to focus on information and communication technologies.

South Africa missed the International Telecommunication Union's deadline of June 17, 2015, due to disagreements among broadcasters and reportedly due to legal wrangling and power struggles between the then newly established departments of communications and telecommunications and postal services.

Faith Muthambi, who was South Africa's communications minister until then President Jacob Zuma reshuffled his cabinet on March 30 last year, had set a new deadline of June 2018.

On Friday, Mokonyane said South Africa now hopes to switch off analogue television and move to digital by July 2020, or sooner.

"Based on the activities plan and the resources we have, analogue switch-off will occur in South Africa in July 2020. However, we will work harder to do it earlier if it’s possible. In the meantime, I can confirm that the Free State province will be the first one to be switched off on 31 December 2018," said Mokonyane.

"The presence of the Free State Premier, Mme Sisi Ntombela underlines the degree to which the province has embraced this project. We are therefore grateful to the Premier, executive and the people for the Free State for their support."

By missing the International Telecommunications Union's 2015 deadline for the protection of analogue systems against interference, Mokonyane said South Africa, unfortunately, continued to operate on a broadcasting system that is not protected. 

"We dare not linger any longer, particularly if we want to lead the continent," she said.

The massive digital migration process involves shifting broadcasters from analogue to digital signals and the process is key for opening up more frequencies and faster mobile broadband services.

African News Agency (ANA)