In the days and weeks immediately after the South African government instituted a total lockdown because of the coronavirus, there was a lot of scrambling from many sectors to adjust to the new reality. Essential service people, companies, and public institutions had to find innovative ways to continue being functional without the normal tools and systems they traditionally relied on.
As one of the country’s leading telecoms and ICT companies, Telkom was involved very early on and at the highest levels of these deliberations. Our main areas of focus were in health (tracking and managing the development of the disease) and education (providing the tools and connectivity to allow the academic year to continue). In this we collaborated with many arms of government: the ministries of Health, Basic and Higher
Education, the health authorities of all nine provinces, university vice-chancellors, and the Department of Communications and Digital Technology. From these early efforts Telkom (and I’d like to think our government as well) learned many valuable
lessons about where the developmental gaps and opportunities lie in our economy. One of the most important of these by far is the urgent need to extend communications infrastructure if our country and our economy is to prosper during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Increasingly in the 21 st century, communications infrastructure is the very backbone on which the
rest of the economy rests, from financial services, to manufacturing, tourism, agriculture and food production, and professional services. It is no exaggeration to say there is no economy without the information and communications network provided by Telkom and similar companies As the third annual South African Investment Conference (SAIC) gets under way in Johannesburg this
week, this is a key area on which government, policy-makers and the investment community should concentrate. Our government has adopted the theme of inclusivity as a guiding principle towards the revival of our economy in the medium to long term. Inclusive growth is only possible in South Africa if we pay close attention to human development, meaning we address the inequities we saw exposed by the
challenges of the lockdown a few months ago. The annual investment summits are a great opportunity to showcase the opportunities in our economy and our country. For two full days this week, the focus of the investment world, both foreign and domestic, will be turned towards our country and our economy – showcasing the opportunities that exist here for innovation, growth, mutual prosperity, and the revival of our economy. But they also offer an opportunity to concentrate our minds on what needs to be done in the policy,
regulation, investment and other areas in order to accelerate growth. Our wish this year would be to see a renewed focus on what we might term the ‘infrastructure of inclusivity’. Because inclusive growth will not magically happen by itself – particularly in an economy marked by historical exclusion and still high levels of concentration.
Among the easiest ways to promote inclusive growth is investment in our township economies and other historically excluded areas, and a renewed focus on and support for our small and medium business sector.
Telkom does not merely pay lip service to these goals, we have recently pivoted our business and investment strategy significantly towards achieving them. We continue to invest heavily in extending the reach of our network to urban townships and peri-urban areas and were the first network to
bring fibre-optic connectivity to Soweto, South Africa’s largest township. Our commitment will of course not end there, and Soweto is only the first of our townships to be connected to Telkom fibre. Another way we are living out our commitment to inclusivity and extending economic opportunity is the recent launch of YEP!, the electronic platform dedicated to providing an online and digital
marketplace for the products and services offered by SMMEs. The platform links them to consumers and provides them several value-added services such as invoicing and quoting of potential customers, secure financial transactions, quality assurance and vetting, and for the consumer, the
ability to compare service and price across thousands of geo-located service providers.
In addition Telkom has pledged to redirect up to R1bn of the company’s procurement spend to the SMME sector through YEP!, a clear case of putting your money where your mouth is and an example
we would love to see followed by many South African corporates.
Maseko is Telkom Group CEO (Telkom SA SOC Ltd, a proud partner of the 2020 SAIC). The article was first published by Business Day.