The ministry of communications is just over four years old and has had five ministers since its inception in May 2014.
On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa made his second cabinet reshuffle since he came into office in February and, like clockwork, the communications minister did not escape the axe as Nomvula Mokonyane was moved to the department of environmental affairs and Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was sworn in as the new minister of communications.
Ramaphosa said he had also decided to merge the telecommunications and communications ministries into one.
The two departments — communications and the telecommunications and postal services — would remain separate however, even though they would now fall under a single minister, until a new administration is elected in 2019.
“This move is going to ensure that we have better alignment and co-ordination of matters that are of importance to our economy,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa said the merger and this latest reshuffle was a precursor or a “first wave” to more robust changes — “in line with the announcement that I made in the State of the Nation Address that we are going to look at realigning government”.
He added that in anticipation of sixth democratic administration we will have completed this work of reconfiguring government.
The communications department was established as a separate ministry from telecommunications in May 2014 by former president Jacob Zuma who appointed Faith Muthambi to lead it. She was succeeded by Ayanda Dlodlo in April 2017 after three years at the helm.
Dlodlo was in office for six months before Zuma replaced her with Mmamoloko Kubayi who was in office for five months and saw her exit shortly after Zuma stepped down.
When Zuma divided communications from telecommunications, he said the new department would be responsible for “overarching communication policy and strategy, information dissemination and publicity, as well as the branding of the country abroad”.
The department oversees Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, the Film and Publication Board, Government Communication and Information Systems, Brand SA and the Media Development and Diversity Agency.
The minister is also the sole shareholder of the cash-strapped SABC that is currently planning mass retrenchments which could affect over 2000 employees and freelancers.
The instability in the ministry has had a detrimental impact on policy consistency and the state of the entities under its charge.
Last month Mokonyane announced that South Africa’s switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, which has been 10 years in the making, would only be completed by 2020. The country has already missed its own deadline of migrating to digital by 2011. It also missed the 2015 International Telecommunications Union’s deadline and lags behind neighbours like Botswana and Namibia.
Mokonyane said the delays have cost the country at least R10-billion after the department said it would be abandoning the procurement installation of set-top boxes meant to facilitate the migration saying the technology had become obsolete.
The cost does not account for the losses made to the broader economy and information and technology sector where digital migration would have freed up broadband spectrum and enabled more competition in the telecommunications sector. Freed up spectrum would also result in better connectivity and cheaper data costs.
The current failing at the SABC is widely attributed to particularly Muthambi who approved the appointment of former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng despite the fact he did not have the prerequisite qualifications.
At the time of Motsoeneng’s permanent appointment as the SABC’s chief operating officer in July 2014, the public protector had also found that he had lied about having a matric certificate and recommended that the SABC board take corrective action against him for this, as well as raising his salary from R1.5-million to R2.4-million.
Under his leadership, he introduced a 90% on-air local music quota for radio stations, which is said to have cost the broadcaster hundreds of millions in advertising revenue. Motsoeneng also oversaw a policy that banned the broadcast of protests on the public broadcaster’s news bulletins and when employees questioned this policy decision he fired them.
In 2016 the Labour Court ruled that Motsoeneng was wrong to dismiss eight journalists, popularly known as the SABC 8 who stood against his protest-ban and ordered that he pays the legal costs associated with the ban.
On Tuesday the Constitutional Court dismissed his leave to appeal the a judgment that held him liable for the legal costs of the battle .