To do business with government, Huawei must have South African staff

Huawei has six months to ensure it has South Africans selling the Chinese technology giant’s services to the government, said Luvuyo Keyise, the chief executive of the State Information Technology Agency (Sita).

Keyise — who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of the Huawei Cloud Summit for the Middle East and Africa, held in Dubai — was commenting on the recent controversy around recruiting practices at Huawei Technologies South Africa. Sita is mandated to render an efficient and value-added information technology service to the public sector.

On 11 February, the department of employment and labour announced it had filed court papers against Huawei, which is headquartered in China. The company, the department said, had breached South Africa’s labour and employment laws by filling 90% of its workforce with foreign nationals. 

A month later, it emerged that the department and Huawei Technologies South Africa reached an out-of-court settlement. The department accepted the company’s employment plan to raise South African representation to more than 50% within three years, according to a joint statement.

In terms of the settlement, Huawei will also provide internships and ICT training to South Africans drawn from the department’s database as part of the agreement, which was described by both parties as a “win-win”.

Keyise acknowledged the department’s settlement with Huawei, but said he has personally asked that the company include more South Africans in its workforce if it intends to do business with the government. 

“Even simple things like sales consultants. You can’t [say] that in South Africa we don’t have enough sales consultants who understand their product. You can’t [say] we don’t have business architects, application architects, solution architects, enterprise architects that can have an understanding of their technology stack. Those skills are there in the country,” Keyisile said.

“So although they [Huawei] were given by Minister of Labour Thulas Nxesi a three-year year plan to ensure that more than 50% of their workforce is South African, they’ve been given by me a six-month plan to ensure that people that go and sell Huawei services to government are South Africans.”

The effect of skill shortages on digital transformation was a subject of the Huawei cloud summit on Monday. The summit is aimed at expanding the influence of Huawei’s cloud business in the Middle East and Africa and promoting the company as a leader of digital transformation in the region.

“There are some key challenges that hamper this transformation journey,” said Ranjit Rajan, vice-president of the International Data Corporation in the Middle East and Africa. “One of the key challenges is a lack of skills. And you see that evolve and develop over the last couple of years in particular.”

Governments, Rajan noted, are accelerating their national skills development programmes to address skills shortages. “But it will take time to create that local pool of talent to bridge some of the skills shortages we see in the regions.”

Frank Dai, president of Huawei cloud in the Middle East, said: “I firmly believe that skillset, talent, will ultimately be the competition factor to all the countries … to support the digitalisation of the country.”

The journalist’s trip to Dubai was sponsored by Huawei.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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