Industry fails black IT in South Africa

The Black IT Forum (BITF) has slated the pace of transformation in the ICT industry, saying black IT companies are losing out due to squabbles over the ICT charter.

The forum says delays in the signing off of the ICT charter continue to be about ownership and this has hindered economic transformation. The charter has been dragging on for five years over disputes on the ICT Sector Codes of Good Practice on broad-based black economic empowerment.

While the ICT steering committee previously reported that a majority decision had been taken to submit the charter to government and work on the draft had been finalised, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has refused to sign off on the charter.

BITF secretary general Motse Mfuleni says the forum will create industry pressure, engage key government departments and increase its influence on the steering committee.

“The spirit of the charter and what it seeks to do – there's agreement on that. But you're still going to find that the whole issue is linked to economic transformation – that those who have had the privilege of owning the ICT industry in the country just don't want to let go of it,” says Mfuleni.

Mfuleni says there is continued influence of the State IT Agency (Sita) in tender specifications and this hinders black participation. “Part of our beef with Sita has been because they are allowing such a small section of the industry to influence how basic opportunities for black enterprises are dished out,” Mfuleni explains.

While past trade and industry minister Mandisi Mpahlwa “lost steam” on empowerment issues, Mfuleni says the BITF is encouraged by current minister Rob Davies. The forum recently took a decision to engage Davies along with the Department of Communications and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), both of which are members of the steering committee.

Former BITF president and current member of the steering committee Mthunzi Mdwaba will be tasked with calling for a review process and the forum will also expose companies it feels are resisting and delaying the process, says Mfuleni.

The charter has been dogged by delays since June 2003, when the process of drawing up the document started. In May 2005, a “final” document was released, but this process was interrupted by the launch in 2005 of the BEE codes, with which the charter needed to be aligned.

The committee has been locked in debates over the sector codes for several years. Since the first final draft in 2005, the committee has signed off on another four “final” drafts. “We can't continue as we are at the moment – where we have a small section of the population controlling the industry as it is. They control things which are basic to give to the black portion of the industry, such as cabling. The amount of greed and lack of co-operation in sharing the cake is unbelievable,” says Mfuleni.

The final draft charter will have to be submitted to the DTI for consideration and publication as a sector Code of Good Practice, in terms of Section 9 of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act 53 of 2003. The minister will then publish the draft charter in the Government Gazette and allow the public a period of at least 60 days to comment.


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