People think that I am God – Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams takes swipe at critics

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Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: Isabel Venter
Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. Picture: Isabel Venter

Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has taken a swipe at critics who disapprove of how she runs her department, saying: “There is the Trinity – God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But others think there is also God Stella.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was this week accused by a whistle-blower of corruption and looting in an email sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa, told City Press in an interview this week that her detractors expected her to perform miracles and retain everyone in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) under her department, even when structures were being reconfigured as per the president’s mandate.

“I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to make my mark in terms of serving the people of this country. I’m prepared to make enemies.

“But the two things I’m committed to are that I shouldn’t undermine the Constitution of this country and I shouldn’t steal from the poor. From there, nobody is going to stop me for as long as I don’t do those two things.

“Everything that I do seeks to improve the lives of the people in this country. Unfortunately, the methodology and the tactics to do that may make others uncomfortable.

“I’m the minister of technology. I’m here to disrupt the status quo. I’m not here to make people comfortable,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

She laughed off the popular refrain in political circles that she was untouchable owing to her closeness with Ramaphosa.

“All I know is that I serve at the pleasure of the president. If tomorrow he doesn’t want me, I will go.”

In the email sent to Ramaphosa on Tuesday, a civil society group and at least one opposition politician, whose name is known to City Press, said Ndabeni-Abrahams was “treated as one of the blue-eyed Cabinet members and as a result she feels untouchable”.

The person accused the minister of destabilising the SABC; imposing people linked to her husband, Thato Abrahams, on the board of the SA Post Office; and appointing controversial persons at the State Information Technology Agency and the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (Usaasa), and later withdrawing the latter; as well as having private business interests through her husband in government’s broadband roll-out.

The minister intimidates and removes people from positions and terminates contracts. This must come to an end,
whistle-blower

“Please investigate this and interview all these entities. People are punished for standing for the truth.

“The minister intimidates and removes people from positions and terminates contracts. This must come to an end,” wrote the whistle-blower.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said on Wednesday that her first responsibility after taking over last year was to reconfigure the department, which included merging the departments of communications and of telecommunications, which legally took effect on Wednesday.

She said the reconfiguration was aimed at the entire portfolio under her ministry, including SOEs, which needed to have their mandates aligned with Ramaphosa’s drive for the fourth industrial revolution.

“That tells you that in the department you need a new skill set, but also you have to reconfigure the mandates of the entities,” she said, adding that government had also identified areas of duplication in the work of SOEs.

“Some are services that we no longer need ... [and it makes] no sense for us to have them.”

She said among the key areas were the establishment of the Digital Development Fund, where Usaasa would cease to exist because a gap had been identified in its mandate, which is its inability to support local innovations.

“You find that many people go to America, to Silicon Valley, because they incentivise them there.

“So, it’s important that as science and innovation ... we provide a market for them. If we do not have confidence in the people of South Africa and their innovations, who’s going to have confidence [in them]? You find that many local innovations are sold back to us [as foreign concepts].”

I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to make my mark in terms of serving the people of this country. I’m prepared to make enemies.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams

Ndabeni-Abrahams said the objective of the development fund was to reindustrialise the sector and shift society away from being consumer-driven to producing technological goods and products locally.

She said the responsibilities of signal distributor Sentech and telecommunications service provider Broadband Infraco were interlinked and often clashed. The intention, therefore, is to establish a state-owned infrastructure company to enable access to connectivity.

“I don’t know when the decision was taken to merge them. I don’t want clashes.

“I’m looking at a futuristic department that will be responsive in ensuring that it delivers on the mandate that the president wants.”

And that affects people, she said.

“People are not going to be happy. They are board members, so they get their money.

“‘Now you’re threatening us, hey, girl, you are threatening us’, [they say].”

Do you agree with how Ndabeni-Abrahams runs her department? Is there room for improvement?

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