Romeo Khumalo. Picture: SUPPLIED
Romeo Khumalo. Picture: SUPPLIED

Entrepreneur Romeo Kumalo says more competition in the tech sector may be a solution to the high price of data in SA.

Kumalo, the former Vodacom executive and a supporter of the #DataMustFall movement, has plans to introduce his own mobile virtual network operator — much like Virgin Mobile and FNB Connect — in the new year.

He says the mobile industry can no longer be dominated by two players. Meaningful competition will bring prices down.

But Kumalo says government, where policy inconsistency over the licensing of spectrum has pitted a department against its own regulator, is also to blame.

"We need decisive decision making and a clear vision of what should happen in the sector," says Kumalo.

His plans for the tech sector depend on better policy. "There are a lot of studies done on how ICT [information and communications technology] can fundamentally change the economies of emerging markets. Look at what’s happening in Rwanda and Kenya. Their governments have realised what ICT can do. [They] are moving when it comes to ICT policies by working with businesses and NGOs," he says.

"Unfortunately our government has fumbled when it comes to ICT."

Kumalo has 24 years of experience in the corporate sector. But the entrepreneur bug bit when he spent time at Harvard Business School in the US.

He left the corporate sector to partner with former SuperSport CEO Happy Ntshingila and create Washirika Holdings, a private equity company with investments in ICT, clean energy and construction.

"I want to use my credibility, capacity, strengths and networks. I can leverage all the experience I have built over the years to build my own business," he says.

A few months ago, Kumalo resigned from the board of Eskom, a decision he says was not influenced by the "state capture" debate.

Kumalo was reported by the Mail & Guardian to have been among a network of contacts on boards of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) aligned to the influential Gupta family.

"Leaving Eskom had nothing to do with state capture. I didn’t feel it was the right environment for me to make a contribution any more so I decided to focus on my business."

He does not dismiss the possibility of serving on an SOE board in future, and highlights the value of having private-sector skills while running an SOE.

But, he says, the environment is not conducive for individuals with private-sector experience to move to SOEs.

"People are scared. We should not stigmatise people for serving on a board of an SOE if [they have] the right skills.

"You would like to see the likes of [FirstRand co-founder] Paul Harris, [former FirstRand CEO] Sizwe Nxasana and [MTN chairman] Phuthuma Nhleko chairing the board of a state institution," he says. They have an important contribution to make.

Kumalo says the debate about state capture is sometimes confused with companies that do legitimate business with the government. The agenda should not shift awareness from black economic empowerment.

Kumalo dismisses rumours that he is part of a consortium that intends to buy a stake in Vodacom.


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