The restructuring of South Africa’s government ministries is designed to give government control over the media, and has pushed the country back by 25 years, according to Marian Shinn, shadow minister of communications for opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA).

HumanIPO reported today president Jacob Zuma announced his new cabinet, creating a Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services – to be headed up by the former minister of state security Siyabonga Cwele – while the Department of Communications will now comprise five entities, including the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

Shinn said the new structure of the cabinet will impede South Africa’s ICT uptake and by extension its economic growth, but also demonstrates Zuma’s intention to control the country’s media.

“I think the way these departments have been put together is misguided and will radically inhibit South Africa’s use of ICT to grow the economy and better interact with citizens,” Shinn told HumanIPO.

“We’ve gone 25 years backwards in a move that I believe is devised to give government control of the ‘conventional’ media platforms – print, radio, TV and the ‘new’ media platforms of internet, such as social media, blogs and online news outlets,” she said.

“The choice of Cwele as the minister of telecommunications and postal services implies that his knowledge of cyber security and electronic surveillance will be put to good use for control purposes.”

According to Shinn, there should be an information ministry to deal with government-issued messages – comprising the GCIS, MDDA, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and Brand SA –  and a separate ministry covering ICASA, policy and strategy matters, with this structure ensuring a marked difference between messaging from the government and policy and infrastructure discussions.

“The split shows that the ANC conflates communication content and communications infrastructure. Government ICT policy and entities should have nothing to do with content, apart from regulating in support of competition, consumer interests and economic growth,” Shinn said.

Shinn also voiced regret that Yunus Carrim, minister of communications up until Zuma’s re-election earlier this month, has not been retained in the position.

“The disruption this split will cause through policy confusion, turf wars, and line responsibilities will delay- if not derail – the significant progress Yunus Carrim made, albeit guided by ANC policy, to get the sector moving in the right direction.”

Given Cwele’s background in intelligence and state security, Shinn voiced concern about his suitability for the role of minister of telecommunications, although she said newly appointed minister of communications Faith Muthambi will do well.

“Cwele’s security focus could be an inhibiting factor in a sector that needs to support free thinkers and mavericks, as well as dynamic entrepreneurs. He may prove me wrong – I sincerely hope so,” Shinn said.

“Faith will be a good minister. She has solid ICT knowledge, and agile mind and is not easily bullied.”