Chairperson, for a maiden speech, to have to do the walk to the podium twice was a bit much, but I am here!
Hon Minister, hon Deputy Ministers, and hon members from the DA and other parties ... [Laughter.] ... digital terrestrial television has much to offer South Africans - a better TV signal, potentially more programming and services and, most importantly, freeing up the exceptionally valuable spectrum used by analogue signals for broadband use, which is the so-called digital dividend.
I am pleased to note that this is the first thing we can all agree on, hon Kubayi.
Back in 2006, South Africa and other nations signed a treaty with the International Telecommunication Union that committed our country to migrating completely from analogue to digital broadcasting by June 2015. In other words, we'll switch off the analogue signal and we'll switch on the digital one. Digital terrestrial television will be born.
I note the Minister's intention to finalise policy, as he says, within a month. Well, Minister, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and frankly we have heard plenty of intentions before about digital terrestrial television.
Should we fail to do this, the consequences are very serious indeed: Our analogue signal will no longer be protected, we will be in breach of an international treaty, and our failure to abide by this treaty means further reputational damage to South Africa and our standing in the eyes of the international community.
Our international reputation already suffers from poor performance in regard to several indices. We can't afford any further loss in our international standing, or the erosion of our national brand, which Brand South Africa has asked South African taxpayers R169 million to protect.
This is the second thing we can all agree on, hon Minister Cwele.
Minister, you said that within three months you would designate the date of the start of the switch-on. Well, I have some good news for you. It has already started.
During the recent round of Budget Vote presentations - those to the joint sitting of the Telecommunications and Postal Services and the Communications committees - it was clear that the entities responsible for the technology, distribution, broadcasting and roll-out of digital terrestrial television are ready to go. Some have been so for quite a while now.
For example, Sentech can provide 83,7% of our people with digital terrestrial television. The rest will be served by satellite, meaning a 100% population coverage. The Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa is sitting on a cash pile of almost R1 billion, ready to install set- top boxes, aerials and dishes. The SABC has already switched on its digital test signal and is broadcasting in this format.
This is the third thing we can all agree on, hon Ndlozi.
Now, if you've got an older analogue TV set, you'll need a set-top box, or STB, to convert the signal to analogue so you can watch it. You could watch it without this STB, but the quality would be quite terrible.
Without going into too much detail, I've read quite widely and extensively over the last while, and if there's a fourth thing we can all agree on, it is this. This is the point where all agreement stops - between the government, between manufacturers, between broadcasters and between industry associations.
Eight years ago the government came up with a misguided scheme for the local manufacture of set-top boxes. It was meant to create opportunities for our people, using black economic empowerment as a yardstick. And for eight years now the government has been flip-flopping as pressure has been brought to bear, from one group of interested stakeholders after the other.
The government is not alone in this indecisiveness either. Several stakeholders themselves have changed their positions, especially around the inclusion or exclusion of a conditional access system. Broadcasters and manufacturers are unable to reach any kind of agreement over access control, and government appears to be caught up in the middle.
Perhaps this explains why South Africa is five years behind schedule with digital migration. We have until June next year to meet the ITU deadline to complete our migration. To put this into perspective, Zimbabwe and Rwanda, for example, are ahead of the curve and ahead of us. We are so far behind because ANC policy indecision has created unrealistic expectations and thumbsucked numbers on job creation. All of this is pie in the sky.
We have a government terrified of litigation from stakeholders who've invested time, money and energy in gearing up for DTT based on policies and proposals that have changed more often than the number of Communications Ministers, and that's a lot. While a tender for set-top boxes was issued, changes in the strategy meant this tender fell away and no new tenders have been called for. Now, I am not going to weigh in on the side of a control mechanism or not, or on issuing a tender for set-top boxes or not, because, frankly, I am not the Minister and I am not the government. [Interjections.] My maiden speech. That's your job, Minister. It is what you're being paid to do.
When danger threatens, there are three ways people respond: fight, flight or freeze. Like a rabbit in the headlights, this government appears to have frozen. You, Minister, have to make a very tough decision, and it's tough because it is very clear that, no matter what you decide, you're not going to keep or make every party happy. You are going to have at least one stakeholder that is exceptionally unhappy, no matter what you do. There is no win-win solution. Accept that reality.
What is non-negotiable, though, is that South Africa has to migrate to DTT to meet our obligations by June 2015. It is also non-negotiable to ensure that no one is excluded from receiving signals and is cut off, even if it is only from the 70% good news dished out by the controversial Hlaudi Motsoeneng - the Goebbels of the SABC - with his self-awarded matric, and his partner in claiming unentitled qualifications, the SABC chairperson Ellen Tshabalala. Perhaps it is not so difficult to see why his appointment was made permanent. If you do not have qualifications at the SABC, you simply make them up! [Laughter.]
In March this year former Minister Carrim said, and I quote:
This bickering has to stop. We need to move forward swiftly in the interests of the country.
Swiftly indeed - we've only got nine months left. It is eight months if we take away the month you will need to gazette an amended policy, and there are five months for you to designate the date of the start of the switch- on.
The DA is excited about DTT. We are excited because we support broad-based black economic empowerment and the benefits of economic inclusion that the roll-out of DTT infrastructure holds for all our people. The time has come ... [Interjections.]