• Population: 44,759,000
  • Internet users: 3,100,000 (2002)
  • Average charge for 20 hours of connection: 26 euros
  • DAI*: 0.45
  • Situation**: good

The country is by far the best-connected to the Internet in Africa. It faces the same problems as the United States or Europe of reconciling respect for online privacy and freedom of expression with the need to fight cybercrime and terrorism. Laws passed so far are not perfect but they are the product of consultation between government, civil society and the private sector.

Parliament approved the Electronic Communications and Transactions Bill (ECT) in June 2002 officially to protect the country against "cyber-terrorism." It was strongly criticised by the opposition, especially the Democratic Alliance, which voted against it, and by Internet freedom of expression groups and private firms. It allows the telecommunications ministry to appoint inspectors to monitor networks and their content and possibly seize data.

The private sector feared meddling in e-commerce, even though telecommunications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri told parliament she did not intend to monitor it. Online privacy and free expression campaigners wondered how open the inspectors would be, what networks they would monitor and what data they would have access to.

The ECT is now in effect but not yet fully operating because many points of it require supplementary orders. These include the most criticised aspects, such as interception of encrypted messages, which are also open to conflicting interpretations. So the focus of the law's opponents has turned to other measures that have been passed or are in the pipeline.

Debate about managing .za domain names

The ECT transfers the assignment of domain names, hitherto done by a users' group called Namespace ZA (run by Mike Lawrie), to a government body, the Domain Name Authority (DNA). The government says the job should not be done by just one person working in the private sector.

Lawrie says the move is unacceptable because the powers of surveillance and control the government is being given will, if exercised, threaten the independence of the Internet in the country. By early 2004, the changeover had not taken place and the appointment of independent figures such as Lawrie to the nine-member DNA board appeared to have defused criticism.

Law on intercepting messages

In January 2003, parliament approved the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act (RICPC), which raised many doubts about message privacy. Orders implementing it, which are still being drawn up, will define the type of data to be monitored and how this is to be done, especially by ISPs. The government seems to favour a direct link between ISPs and a central interception office.

Telkom monopoly of Internet access

The telecom sector was opened up to competition with the 2001 amendment to the telecommunications law. In practice, however, the state-run Telkom retains its monopoly since no other firms have emerged, a situation that has been criticised by the ISP Association of South Africa (ISPA) and which hinders growth of the Internet in the country.


* The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country's inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).

** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.


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