General dissent

I'M GENERALLY a glass half-full kind of guy, but my sunny outlook has been challenged in spades this week. No sooner has the 2010 FIFA World Cup afterglow faded than the SA government is back in the press for all the wrong reasons. Once again, the department of communications is in the spotlight too. And the week has just begun.

Former army general turned communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda's axing of his department's director general Mamodupi Mohlala has once again raised questions and eyebrows regarding his business interests.

These, for the most part, concern tenders awarded to companies he owns or has interests in and are usually coupled with questions regarding his lavish lifestyle, which includes expensive cars and stays in luxury hotels.

Now let's be fair - if you legitimately earn a lot of money, it's none of my business what you do with it. That said, purchasing R1.2m cars for the use of your department, unless those cars have satellite dishes and monitoring equipment fitted to them and can be tangibly used to improve communications in SA, seems excessive.

It was apparently tenders linked to Nyanda that sparked the "breakdown in trust" between him and Mohlala, ultimately leading to her sacking.

Nyanda has not yet given his reasons for getting rid of the DG but The Business Day newspaper reported last week that Mohlala had refused to approve tenders awarded to people close to the minister. Let's assume two and two are adding up as expected.

Apparently, acting in the interests of the South African taxpayer and constitution is grounds for dismissal in the department of communications, if all the speculation proves sound. Or is the media hashing things up again, as the ANC so often accuses us of doing?

In a normal week and with a government bereft of controversy, one might be inclined to give Nyanda the benefit of the doubt until he spells out his reasons for sacking Mohalala. But this is not such a week and the ANC-led government is not such an organisation.

This is a week in which we are seeing a proposed Protection of Information Bill that would unconstitutionally undermine freedom of the press in South Africa, and a week in which the venal Zimbabwean government will approach South Africa's High Court to stop the auction of properties it owns in Cape Town.

Xenophobia is on the agenda again and the ANC is spouting its enervating struggle-talk, almost two decades after said struggle definitively ended.

And it's only Tuesday.

The department of communications has recently made some questionable decisions. Perhaps most confusing is its decision to delay the move to digital terrestrial television, with which it was making good progress until it announced it may go back on the chosen technology standard it (and most of the rest of the world except for Brazil) had chosen for the migration.

Instead, it is considering an obscure Japanese standard the Brazilians have adopted and are trying to flog along with their skills in implementing it.

It has also delayed a planned auction of valuable radio frequency, or spectrum, in SA saying that the proposed configuration of this spectrum was not favourable for more sophisticated telecommunications technologies. Never mind that an auction may be a bad idea to begin with.

Did Mohlala have anything to do with these delays? Was she behind some of the department's recent shortcomings leading to its embarrassing vacillation? Did Nyanda, a man of action and usually pretty decisive, sack her for the right reasons?

In a normal week and with a respectable government, these are possibilities we would entertain. As things stand, however, one can't help but tend toward less optimistic conclusions involving honest, scrupulous politicians being shown the door in a government that looks increasingly crooked.


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