President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the inaugural Fourth Industrial Revolution SA - Digital Economy Summit at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand on July 5 2019. Picture: GCIS/JAIRUS MMUTLE
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the inaugural Fourth Industrial Revolution SA - Digital Economy Summit at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand on July 5 2019. Picture: GCIS/JAIRUS MMUTLE

SA’s telecoms operators have more clarity about the country’s relationship with Chinese technology giant Huawei, with President Cyril Ramaphosa giving his full support for the company amid US-China trade tensions.

“The US has been unable to imagine a better future which goes beyond 4-plus-1 G,” Ramaphosa said at a digital economy summit in Midrand on Friday, referring to 5G connectivity. 

He was referring to a joke by Huawei senior vice-president Tao Jingwen earlier in the day at the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) summit in Johannesburg, about how 5G technology was a massive leap from 4G.

The stand-off between the US and China has left companies and countries scrambling as to where they stand on the matter. This was made especially difficult for information and communications technology companies when US authorities effectively blacklisted Huawei from trading with US-based businesses without a special licence. The restrictions were later eased.

So far, local operators have not publicly spoken about their relationship with the Shenzhen-based company. In May, Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko said the industry would follow the government’s lead on the matter.

“They’ve been unable to imagine what 5G can offer and now clearly they are jealous,” Ramaphosa said of the US. “They’re jealous that a Chinese company called Huawei has outstripped them. And because they’ve been outstripped, they must now punish that company and use it as a pawn in the fight they have with China.”

Local telecoms companies previously wrote to the president saying the tussle between China and the US around Huawei was going to hurt them. 

Operators said they wanted to bring 5G to SA and Huawei was the current leader in the technology, the president said. “We support a company that is going to take our country and the world to better technologies, and that is 5G. We support them.”

Ramaphosa said SA cannot afford to have its economy held back by the US-China trade tussle. “We are pleased that at the G20 summit, China and the US were able to meet and they said they would relax some of the sanctions on Huawei. We want 5G and we know where we can get 5G.”

The president also said the government was committed to rolling out the spectrum needed for 5G, and committed to lower data costs.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za