White Noise

Ivy’s Legacy

The minister of communications since 1999, known to many as Poison Ivy, died in office on 6 April 2009.

05 May 2009

In her decade at the helm, she earned infamy for misguided policy positions, bureaucratic delays and litigation, and a deep distrust of the private sector. Those companies in which government had a major share failed to deliver on their mandates. She accused the truly private sector of failing to serve the market’s needs, although it was never free to try, thanks to her iron-fist rule. Throughout her term of office, new competition in network infrastructure was outlawed, excepting a few sweetheart deals with state-approved consortia. Telcos were hobbled by costly bureaucracy, onerous licence conditions, restrictive pricing rules, ill-considered legislation and lack of clarity in regulation. The industry regulator was chronically underfunded and short of capacity. Government’s conflicting interest as both regulator and player in the sector didn’t help.

A court case over whether ISPs have the right to build their own networks, brought and lost by the minister, did more to liberalise the ICT sector than any number of ‘policy determinations’ or any amount of ‘managed liberalisation’. Yet the minister clung to that failed policy as if it were an article of faith. Telecommunication prices, despite former president Thabo Mbeki’s personal exhortations, remained stubbornly high, and Matsepe-Casaburri failed to articulate why this was so, or how this might be changed.

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