HARARE - Zimbabweans have been stunned by GOtv’s switch-off — launched amid great pomp and fanfare just over a year ago — by Multichoice Africa and Transmedia.
Transmedia, on behalf of the Zimbabwe government, owns a 30 percent stake in GOtv while MultiChoice Africa and Skynet control 60 and 10 percent respectively.
Under the agreement, entered between the government and Multichoice; Transmedia provided sites for GOtv transmitters and an operating licence, with Multichoice providing the funding.
Apart from offering a bouquet of 26 channels to ordinary Zimbabweans at a low monthly cost of US$6,50, commission realised from GOtv subscription payments were earmarked to finance the national digitalisation programme in line with the 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Given the foregoing, why has Transmedia unilaterally switched off the digital terrestrial television service, described at its launch by then Media, Information and Publicity minister Webster Shamu as “a giant step in the right direction?”
A recent media statement released by Multichoice Africa revealed that the current GOtv shareholder structure is the reason behind the unilateral termination of the new television service.
Does the Government of Zimbabwe’s sudden U-turn, just over a year after appending a signature to the GOtv agreement, have anything to do with the fact that there has been change of guard in the ministry?
Other well-placed sources argue that the government now wants to have a controlling stake in the partnership in line with the country’s indigenisation policy. If that is indeed the case, that would be strange because when the GOtv agreement was mooted, the policy was already in place.
The government must realise that enforcing the indigenisation policy religiously without looking at the merits of individual cases is counterproductive. For example in the GOtv venture, funding is not provided by the Zimbabwe government, but by MultiChoice Africa.
Critically, Gotv is also providing an innovative method of raising funds to finance the country’s digitalisation programme which is currently lagging behind international standards.
The unilateral GOtv switch off flies in the face of calls for increased public-private sector partnerships as a way of circumventing the financial problems being faced by the cash-strapped Zimbabwe government.
It will increasingly become difficult for the government to secure partners for other crucial public-private sector partnerships if the GOtv shareholder impasse is not resolved in a manner that inspires confidence.
The government is therefore duty-bound to act in a manner that promotes the interests of the disenfranchised GOtv subscribers and the spirit of public-private sector partnerships.