The years-long DTT scandal seems to have a Gupta link, denying SA better broadband and TV

This is about government policy, so you’re going to have to bear with me.

Last week, the previous communications minister (Faith Muthambi) won her Constitutional Court case against the policies of her predecessor (Yunus Carrim) and of her own party.

This final legal step might lead to a conclusion to this epic, ten-year saga, you might foolishly believe. But this is the ANC government and we are well and truly into the state capture years.

Last Thursday’s court victory for Muthambi – who is now Minister of Public Service and Administration – may prove to be a moot point. Her successor, Ayanda Dlodlo, has already hinted she will do yet another u-turn in what is a bizarre series of flip-flops around the provision of set-top boxes for the new digital terrestrial television (DTT) signal.

Let’s recap. It is, after all, another inexplicable episode in the ongoing you-can’t-make-this-sh*t up soap opera of the Presidunce Jacob Zuma years, so the illogical twists and irrational turns are hard to follow.

Muthambi – after destroying the SABC through her backing of the high-school dropout Hlaudi Motsoeneng and other incompetent acts – broke with ANC policy over whether the decoders should be encrypted. The ANC and free-to-air broadcaster e.tv saw believed they should be; while MultiChoice and, bizarrely, the SABC under Mad-Hatter Motsoeneng argued they shouldn’t be. A series of court cases followed, which e.tv won until last week’s ConCourt reversal.

Trying to understand why Muthambi insisted on the opposite of her own party remained an enigma seemingly explained by her thorough incompetence. Until the #GuptaLeaks emails emerged last month and revealed her connection to their nefarious corrupt network.

Muthambi emailed Tony Gupta directly about government policy changes impacting her department of Mis-Communications before Zuma had officially approved them, the mails revealed. She also emailed Ashu Chawla, CEO of Gupta-owned Sahara Computers, on July 29 2014 (which he forwarded to Tony Gupta) a memo from Telecommunications and Postal Service Minister Siyabonga Cwele. Cwele, whom she was locked in an internecine battle for control of the telecoms sector, expressed concerns about changes to the DTT migration policy.

Industry commentators have been wondering for years whether this encryption battle was being waged to suit some hidden vested interest – as the lucrative contract to provide some 5m set-top boxes for the households deemed too poor to buy these pricey decoders was worth a pretty penny.

Nothing has yet been proved about this by these #GuptaLeaks emails – except the extent to which the Gupta family has been running the country and how they have corrupted our institutions to their own gain. But don’t be surprised if Muthambi has been going to bat for a Gupta-related firm that would make, or import, such decoders. It’s not inconceivable that years of better wireless broadband and South African defaulting on a June 2015 agreement to switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasts has a corrupt Gupta link.

Furthermore, that Muthambi was emailing Chawla is a very telling revelation, given how Sahara Computers was at the heart of the failed Gauteng Online initiative to get computers into the province’s schools. Instead, this is abortive multi-hundreds of million project, it has been suggested, was the Gupta’s first foray in tender-rigging and state capture.

Why on earth was the Communications Minister Faith Muthambi emailing Sahara Computers-owner Tony Gupta, whilst going against her own party’s policy and taking her fight all the way to the Constitutional Court, if not for state capture reasons?

This column first appeared in Financial Mail

Editor, columnist, strategist and speaker; Toby writes and speaks about Innovation. And Africa. Most eloquently about Innovation in Africa. Through a range of media, from newspapers to television and radio, he speaks regularly on the trends in technology and innovation; and where they are going.

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