By Tankiso Komane
Johannesburg - South African entrepreneur and investor in the gold mining sector and gas, Joel Mafenya, has shaken up the local telecommunications sector by launching the country’s first wholly black-owned cellular network operator, Taxicom Mobile.
Taxicom Mobile was officially launched last week at The Venue in Melrose Arch, Joburg.
The company, said Mafenya, aimed to accelerate access to inclusive mobile telecommunications services to the underserviced and excluded.
“This will be done through an introduction of a different model of meaningful ownership – with preference given to subscribers, distributors and its agents,” he said.
Although it is a new entrant to the market, Taxicom Mobile will target the same subscribers dominated by the “big four” mobile networks.
“As we speak, we have more than 10 000 quality orders from potential subscribers for SIM cards and devices. And we are optimistic that by the end of this year, our numbers would have significantly ballooned,” Mafenya said.
With a strong focus on job creation through small business support, among them spaza shops, taverns and taxi associations, Mafenya said that Taxicom Mobile’s call centres would be decentralised in the townships and rural communities “to bring opportunities closer to where people live”.
The entry of Taxicom Mobile into the market comes at a time when the historic lack of diversity in local telecom sector remains one of the top challenges for the country to overcome. As revealed during a Parliament hearing early this year, the market has lots of barriers to entry for small operators, particularly historically disadvantaged black-owned businesses.
During the sitting, it was heard that the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies was issuing telecommunications regulator, Icasa, with an order to issue licences for spectrum in a manner that prioritises small, black-owned entities.
However, as Mafenya highlighted, Taxicom Mobile’s entry into the market should not be construed to mean simply being a black company was strong a compelling case for support, but as a reminder “of a sector that is slowly but surely transforming”.