Free 10GB data per month for South Africans and 10% price increases for Zimbabweans

Leonard Sengere Avatar

Sometimes you marvel at just how differently politicians and govt officials from different countries think. I feel like the South Africans are just mocking/exposing us right now. In the same week where we saw an excise tax of 10% lead to more expensive fixed internet in Zimbabwe, we hear that South Africans will be getting 10gb of free data per month per household.

You know how the United Nations says internet access is now a basic human right. In both Zimbabwe and South Africa, officials have expressed commitment to ensuring all citizens get this human right. In practice though, actions reveal who meant it. 

South Africa walking the walk

The South African communication minister had this to say,

Data has become a new utility like water and electricity that our home needs

South African Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni

That statement on its own means little. We have had Zimbabwean govt officials admit the same. That’s usually where it ends but the SA minister went on. As quoted by Mybroadband,

At some point, South Africa will say… despite whether you are rich or poor, whether you are employed or unemployed, [every household] have access to 10GB per month without failure because that’s what this government will deliver

South African Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni

Now that’s different. Here the minister is committing her govt to delivering this. And in putting this on record she is opening the govt to criticism if the 10GB per month never materialises. 

I’ll admit that I’m not brave enough to take politician promises to the bank though. Especially when said promises are left open ended, with no set delivery date. The minister said ‘at some point’ and that sounds like wishful thinking. When is that point? Later this year? Just before the 2024 South African general elections? Or 2040? The govt has not boxed itself in.

Govts need their wiggle room

This may be because of the practical implications of delivering the 10GB. 

Take for example the fact that the average MTN prepaid customer uses around 2.5GB per month whilst the postpaid customer uses 11.1GB. If these customers got a free 10GB handout per month, MTN would be in trouble. The 10GB would be sufficient for most customers’ needs.

The question then becomes, how will the govt pay for this data? If the govt pays market value for this data and does not mandate people switch to specific mobile network operators (MNOs), players will be relieved a little. However, like in MTN’s case, the sole/major customer would become the govt and that’s not ideal.

In the short term, the govt paying for 10GB for all MTN customers for example would lead to a revenue bump for the MNO. The govt would have bumped up all those 2.5BG customers’ usage to 10. However, this freebie business may stunt data usage growth in the long term and the MNOs do not want that.

Can the South African govt even afford this? The Telkom 10GB bundle costs R99 but the other MNOs price it at around R436. So, even at the low end, providing 10GB to their over 17 million households would cost R1.7 billion (US$113 million) per month. The govt probably won’t be shelling out this sum every month but whatever arrangement is made, that’s the true market value of the freebie 10GB deal.

Spectrum licences at ransom

The SA minister went on to reveal the govt’s plan to get every South African online. 

In the past, we have seen the telecommunications operators ignoring social obligations and opting to pay negligible penalties instead of connecting our people

South African Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni

That won’t fly. Now these telcos have to commit to providing connectivity for schools, medical facilities, and traditional authorities. The govt through Icasa (their Potraz) will require telcos to meet those social obligations or risk their spectrum licences being revoked. 

Remember radio frequency spectrum is finite and yet telcos need it to provide cellular services. So, for the spectrum auction that’s scheduled for March 2022, South Africa will require telcos to commit to provide connectivity to 18,520 schools, 5,731 clinics and hospitals, and 8,241 offices of traditional leaders. Said the minister,

This time around [industry regulator Icasa] will include the fulfilment of service obligations as part of the licensing conditions without an option of a penalty

In my humble opinion such a move is likely to lead to better results than the one we have in Zimbabwe. See, in SA’s case, the MNO would be risking their licence by not improving coverage to underserved or strategic communities. However, the MNO would retain the impetus to rectify it meaning the MNOs will provide that service in the most efficient way possible. 

In Zimbabwe, the MNOs have to surrender actual money to the govt. Then it becomes the govt’s job to make sure those underserved areas get coverage. We all know just how efficient and effective govts are. An economy is better served when such activity is left to capitalist companies looking to complete the process quickly, cheaply and effectively. 

So holding spectrum hostage to ensure compliance seems like a better strategy. Even if it has its own problems.

O my beloved Zimbabwe

When are we going to see policies that lead to better connectivity and cheaper access in Zimbabwe? What the South Africans are doing shows that at the very least, some people are seriously thinking about how to improve the connectivity situation. We happen to be trailing South Africa in that regard and so I hope our own minister Muswere is taking notes on what his peers are doing.

Zimbabwe’s problems need custom solutions but one can never get too much inspiration. The whole Zimbabwean govt should be coordinated in tackling this connectivity problem that we have. Everything from our tax regime to our environmental policies should take connectivity into account.

So the high cost of internet access should be treated as an attack on human rights and dealt with accordingly. The govt collects a little too much from Zim telcos and internet users, leading to high final prices for end users. Look at this:

  • Excise duty  – 10%
  • Corporate tax – 24.72% (inclusive of AIDS levy)
  • Value Added Tax – 14.5%
  • IMTT – 2% (whenever funds exchange hands)
  • USF contributions – 1.5% of MNOs’ annual GROSS revenues 
  • And more

I’m not asking for 10GB free data per month. I’m just asking for policies that will make it cheaper for every Zimbabwean to buy their own 10 GB. It shouldn’t be, but it does feel like too much to ask.

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What’s your take?

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  1. Barf!

    The biggest problem you have is the lot still in power… Something voters should’ve gotten rid of decades ago! Sad to say, a lack of interest in doing so, greedy, useless idiots mouthing off about not being allocated a seat and blindness when it comes to rigging have all contributed to the mess Zimbabwe’s in now. Unless some form of credible, viable opposition is given that chance, en masse by voters, that useless greedy and destructive zpf will Loot Continua!

  2. Bar-Fly

    With destructive zpf, hell-bent on keeping their brass in the manner voters have allowed, stupid, greedy idiots bleat about not being allocated a perch on the gravy train and all those polling agents turn a blind eye to vote rigging, voters can only blame themselves for allowing this to happen! Greed and violence is all zpf know, but unless and until voters do their bit en masse, nothing can or will even stand a chance of improvement!

  3. D1vant

    Cry my beloved, the same old story 😭

  4. Christopher C

    Why would the Zim government treat data as a human right when they don’t even treat water or electricity as a human right. Constant water and power cuts are the norm. What good is 10gb when there is no electricity to power your devices. I know there are work around… etc but we are talking about the average Zimbabwean and let’s be honest most can’t afford solar. The fact is the zanupf don’t care about the future of Zimbabwe or its people they only think of the here and now and lining their pockets. We hope for a better Zimbabwe but I don’t see it anytime soon.

  5. Sagitarr

    Whilst not perfect, the RSA govt is held to account at every level of society from municipalities right through to the Executive. The judiciary has not been bought with trinket TVs or cars. The ANC govt has not locked the rural areas to pretend that they are democratic, they compete fairly and win/lose fairly in elections. In Zim, ZPF has virtually locked out any alternative voice from 1. rural areas 2. so-called “national TV” 3. so-called “public media”. They think they know everything. Citizens are told they are free but not to criticise ZPF. In RSA the govt is different from the ANC, we have a very blurred distinction in this so-called “liberated” country it’s nauseating. I doubt that Zim will ever be successful along this trajectory, until perhaps after everyone supporting this BS is dead. Where in the world do you find non-tax payers holding sway against tax payers? People getting stuff for free make more noise than those who pay in taxes. In Zim our entire dreams are limited to the myopic vision of the armed thugs, hardly worth celebrating.

  6. Ini

    Lol 😆kunyepa, 55%? I have no knowledge of how taxes work. Meaning for every $1.00, 0.55cents inoenda kugvt here? $55.00 for $100 and so on. Balance me bitte!

    1. Prince

      The 24.7% corporate tax is on ‘profits’ and not the total so it does not add like you imagine. However total taxes are at least a third of all income which is still very high

  7. Francis

    Announcing free internet in parliament is nonsensical if they don’t plan on delivering. I think they actually intend to do this, and that politicians and select mobile carriers will make a killing from corruptly handling funds for the scheme.
    Regardless, nothing from the government is ever free. Taxpayer money and revenue from resources collectively owned by citizens fund this, calling handouts free strikes me as a little misleading and causes the misconception that the government is benevolent.
    Overall, I think the funds to be used in this internet plan could be better spent elsewhere but alas, the oligarchs are the ones to decide that.

  8. interested

    how much does potraz here take/get as a percentage ? what is their hand in this and what does potraz get out of it annually percentage wise?