South Africa Table of Contents
Until 1990 the Department of Posts and Telecommunications regulated all nationwide communications networks. In 1991, in anticipation of possible privatization, the government formed two state-owned companies, the telecommunications corporation, Telkom, and the South African Post Office to deliver the mail. Telkom is the largest telecommunications system in Africa. It earned at least US$2.3 billion in 1993, providing telegraph, telex, telephone, radio, television, and data and facsimile transmissions. Telkom also holds a majority stake in one of the nation's two cellular phone networks that began operation in 1995.
The telephone system, which links all major cities and many small towns, encompasses roughly 5 million telephones in the mid-1990s, roughly 9.7 per 100 inhabitants. They are connected through more than 1,200 automatic exchanges. The telephone system includes a network of coaxial and fiber optic cable and radio-relay, three ground stations that communicate with satellites over the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, and an undersea coaxial cable between South Africa and the Canary Islands that joins other cables linking Europe and South America.
Telephone service became a symbol of the racial disparities under apartheid, especially during the 1980s, when per capita access to telephone service in black communities was less than one-tenth that in white areas. For this reason, early-1990s plans for a cellular telephone network in rural and township areas assumed symbolic as well as economic importance as a means of black empowerment. In 1994 and 1995, this system extended telephone service into many rural areas for the first time and was assisting local entrepreneurs for whom communication had often been a major obstacle. Industry officials predicted that by the late 1990s, the cellular phone industry would create at least 4,500 jobs directly, and would contribute to the creation of perhaps 40,000 or more jobs in related industries.
The government began allowing the private sector to provide data transmission services in 1994. The plan was to allow companies to use Telkom facilities to provide customers with value-added services, such as the electronic transfer of funds and messages, management of corporate data networks, and the remote processing of corporate information. Telkom retained control over the independent telecommunications services, to continue the company's statutory monopoly overall and to regulate competition in the field. Private companies are able to lease facilities, such as data lines, from Telkom and charge customers only for value added to these services.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) had a near-monopoly in television service in most of South Africa until the independent television company, M-Net, inaugurated service in January 1991. In 1993 the government placed SABC broadcasts under the supervision of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, as a step toward greater media independence from political control. Television service, which had been initiated in 1976, consisted of four channels broadcasting in English, Afrikaans, and five African languages. One of the English-Afrikaans stations was a subscription service, similar to cable television, owned by a syndicate of newspaper publishers. Until 1994 residents of some of the former black homelands, and those near the border with Swaziland, had received separate broadcasts from those areas. After that, television service in the former homelands was incorporated into the nationwide system. A reorganization of SABC was implemented in the mid-1990s to allow greater diversity in its broadcasts.
The SABC operates 300 frequency modulation (FM) and fourteen amplitude modulation (AM) radio stations. Programs were primarily in English and Afrikaans through the early 1990s, but several low-power FM stations broadcast in at least a dozen African languages, and the use of African languages was increasing. One short-wave external service, Radio RSA, broadcasts worldwide.
The South African Post Office provides postal and money-transfer services, as well as postal savings accounts. Its 1,580 post offices and other facilities handled more than 7 million items each workday in 1994, delivering mail to some 5 million addresses. In its first year in power (1994-95), the new Government of National Unity opened at least seventy new post offices and upgraded many others in previously ill-served areas. It also installed an estimated 700,000 new mail boxes at private addresses and in post-office box locations. Postal savings accounts are available to individuals with as little as R10 to deposit; interest payments in 1995 were reportedly as high as 5 percent on savings deposits and 11 percent on savings certificates. South Africa was readmitted to the Universal Postal Union in 1994, enabling it to participate in international technical assistance programs and accounting facilities within the union.
Data as of May 1996
South Africa Table of Contents