South Africa’s telecoms regulator, ICASA, has confirmed this morning that the ex-Vodacom exec Pakamile Pongwana will take over as the organisation’s new CEO as of 1st November. Pongwana replaces Themba Dlamini whose three-year-contract finishes at the end of this month.
Pongwana’s appointment was first reported last week, and confirmed this morning by ICASA. He takes over ICASA at an interesting time even for the ever-turbulent telecoms industry in South Africa. Last Friday, the draft National Broadband Policy was presented to industry which makes it clear that the Department of Communications and ICASA will be taking steps to force Telkom to open up its network to other operators. Details aren’t specified, but the draft document makes it clear that this will go beyond local loop unbundling (LLU). What’s more mobile operators are fighting for more spectrum to be released, while at the same time ICASA is pushing through new termination rates for off-network calls that vastly favour the smaller operators.
What will Pongwana bring to the job? Up until recently, he was the head of regulatory affairs for Vodacom. In that role, he was a vocal proponent of LLU, so likely won’t back down from a fight with Telkom easily. On the other hand, Vodacom has come out strongly against the new termination rate rules, and may well end up in front of the Competition Commission over its plans to buy Neotel’s fibre network.
One of Pongwana’s first jobs won’t be easy for him either. Last week ICASA was ordered to recover R370m from Vodacom and the SANDF in unpaid licence fees. In 1999, Pongwana was a communications officer in the SANDF.
That said, Pongwana does have a lot of experience in government. Before joining Vodacom, he was Deputy Director General for Policy at the Department of Communications, which included a spell as Acting DG towards the end of his time there.