South Africa’s northern neighbor, Zimbabwe, is set to launch Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet services ahead of South Africa due to an apparent standoff over licensing rules. The country’s Postal & Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, known as Potraz, is likely to approve an application by SpaceX to launch Starlink services in Zimbabwe.
If approved, Zimbabwe will join a growing list of African countries that have given the green light for Starlink’s use within their territories. This list includes Mauritius, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Mozambique.
The Situation in South Africa
In contrast, South Africa’s communications regulator, Icasa, has previously stated that it is not responsible for the delays in licensing Starlink in the country. Despite having met with SpaceX officials twice regarding the potential launch of the satellite internet service locally, Icasa claims it has not received a formal license application from the company.
The licensing of Starlink in South Africa has also become a political issue. Earlier this year, Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler Barnard accused the ANC government of allegedly blocking the satellite service in South Africa. This accusation was vehemently denied by communications minister Mondli Gungubele.
Equity Rules and Controversy
The “prevailing legislation” referred to by Gungubele is the Electronic Communication Act. This act requires licensees to have a minimum 30% equity ownership held by persons from historically disadvantaged groups. Kohler Barnard blamed the ANC’s rigid stance on black economic empowerment – and specifically Icasa’s rules – for effectively blocking SpaceX from launching Starlink in South Africa.
The Future of Starlink in South Africa
While it remains unclear when or if Starlink will launch in South Africa, the situation highlights the complexities and challenges associated with introducing new technologies in different regulatory environments.