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Key Economic Data 
  2002 2001 2000 Ranking(2002)
Millions of US $ 104,235 113,300 127,900 35
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,600 2,820 3,060 94
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)


Area (




Thabo Mbeki

The Union of South Africa that followed the Boer War (1899-1902) operated under a policy of apartheid - the separate development of the races. The 1990's brought an end to apartheid politically and ushered in black majority rule. Southern Africa as a whole is a very different place than it was two decades ago. Old single-party dictatorships and white minority government have given way to nascent democratic governments with varying degrees of success and maturity. On 10 May 1994, Nelson Mandela took office as the first president of the 'new' South Africa'. His inauguration marked the end of a long struggle to achieve a non-racial political regime and the beginning of an equally difficult and protracted process of state and nation building that is intended to lead eventually to the realisation of a stable democracy. 
The 1990's can be viewed as a success. The diminution of political violence, the relatively peaceful transfer of power, the continuation of the transformation process, albeit painfully slow, can be regarded with pride and promise. The retirement of Mandela as president in 1999 saw the second round of successful majority-rule elections. The succession process was amazingly smooth. Thabo Mbeki was officially named to ANC's candidate for president back in 1997. Mbeki may lack Mandela's charisma, and his capacity for fairness and sensitivity, but his style is different and more efficient and businesslike. Mbeki will remain unchallenged as president in 2002, but the ANC remains deeply divided.
South Africa is the most developed country in southern Africa, and the regional leader economically and politically. But South Africa (and every other country in the region) has its own problems. The political transition from a race-based polity to one based on majority rule is almost complete, yet subject to tensions. Changes have occurred with relatively little violence. Aside from the former Soviet-bloc countries, no nation has experienced greater change than South Africa over the past decade. The non-racial democracy is still in its infancy and still requires nurture and development. 
South Africa has the most sophisticated economy in black Africa. Unlike other African countries its manufacturing sector is relatively advanced. It is the largest sector of the economy, contributing about a quarter of the GDP. Agriculture is also relatively diversified, producing wine, citrus products and wool for export and maize for internal consumption. Agriculture accounts for about 4 percent of the GDP. The population is growing fast at 2.6% pa. In 1999 it totalled 45 million - 76% African, 13% white, 8.5% coloured, and 2.5% Asian. The GNP per head is over $3000 (compared to $300 in Nigeria) but this figure masks inequitable distribution of wealth between the races.
In Southern Africa as a whole, South Africa accounts for less than one-third of the population but for more than 75 percent of the GDP. Its economy is 3.4 times larger than the combined economies of the other members of the Southern African Development Community - SADC (Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe). This suggests that South Africa occupies a position in Africa similar to the United States within the global economy. While the United States accounts for 26 percent of global GDP, South Africa accounts for about 44 percent of Africa's GDP. South Africa's economic outreach into and beyond the region grew substantially after the ending of apartheid, and shows every sign of continuing to do so. Many of South Africa's largest conglomerates, banks, and financial institutions have found openings for investment in some twenty countries in Africa. The countries of greatest immediate interest are Angola because of its oil and mineral resources, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with its huge potential for mining development. 

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Update No: 24 - (06/01/04)

In the opening weeks of 2004 South Africa's 'quiet diplomacy' regarding Zimbabwe could be given its last chance by the international community. If there is no progress, there could be many consequences for South Africa. Good relations with G8 nations could be in jeopardy. The post-apartheid stock of international goodwill and diplomatic credibility are at stake. The policy has lost the support of South African churches and trade unions and many other developing nations. Ominously farmers in South Africa have voiced fears that 2004 could see a wave of land grabs similar to those that have crippled Zimbabwe. President Mbeki appears keen to back land reforms giving government the power to redistribute land. Mbeki is under pressure following promises made by the ANC in 1994 to redistribute 30% of farmland in 10 years. Less than 3% has changed hands thus far, and with parliamentary elections in April a difficult situation is arising with Mbeki eager to appease the electorate but anxious not to deter investment. 
During 2003 South Africa opposed the war in Iraq but has seen trade with the US flourish. The Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) and the US are set for further negotiations with a deal proposed by the end of 2004. The South African government believes a free trade area with the US will lock in the existing benefits which Sacu states enjoy under the African Trade and Opportunity Act (Agoa). South Africa's trade surplus with the US hit a record high of almost $2bn in the year to October 2003 on the back of continued strong export growth to the US, despite the severe effect that the rand's gains have had on domestic exporters. Trade relations between South Africa and developing world, and particularly Africa need to develop further. South Africa's trade with Africa, particularly exports, has surged dramatically in the post-isolation years with expanded ties discussed throughout 2003. 
Campaigners welcomed South Africa's belated decision to introduce anti-retroviral drugs to treat people who are HIV positive following the National AIDS Conference in August. This followed years of criticism and public pressure. Some 4.7 million South Africans, one in nine, are infected with HIV/Aids, the world's highest number. The South African health department welcomed the US initiative to increase allocations to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa by US$10-billion. 
The automotive and aviation industries experienced a favourable year in 2003. The automotive industry continued diversification with numerous deals involving major international players Toyota, Volkswagen, DaimlerChrysler, Ford and Fiat. The Motor Industry Development Programme, which encourages export-oriented investment was extended to 2012. South African Airways (SAA) continued its expansion with major aircraft acquisitions and took control of 49% of Air Tanzania. Despite global decline, SAA made a record gross profit of Rand545 million in 2002/03.

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Deals Hit a R30bn in 2003

South Africa's black economic empowerment drive hit a new high in 2003 with more than R30bn worth of deals concluded, trumping the previous peak of R21bn reached in 1998. This year's endorsement of the mining and financial services sector charters by the private sector and government is seen as the driving force behind the new impetus on empowerment deals. The two charters removed a cloud of uncertainty around private sector empowerment. The figures based on an estimate of empowerment deals announced since the start of 2003 have quadrupled compared to 2002. The largest empowerment transaction done this year was between Harmony Gold and Patrice Motsepe's African Rainbow Minerals Gold (ARMgold). The R4.5bn transaction was finalised less than a year after ARMgold became the first black-owned gold company to list on the JSE Securities Exchange SA. The new company will be the fifth-largest gold producer in the world. 2003 also saw Motsepe's mining rival Tokyo Sexwale conclude a R4.1bn deal with Goldfields, to buy 15% of Goldfields' South African assets. Outside the mining industry, the largest empowerment deals included the R3.1bn acquisition of 75% of Afrox Healthcare by empowerment consortium Bidco headed by Cape based Brimstone and Mvelaphanda. And the consortium Ubuntu-Botho, led by Motsepe, announced its intentions to buy up to 12% of Sanlam, in a deal worth R2.2bn. Not far behind in value terms is Bidvest's R2.1bn deal to sell 15% of the diversified industrial group to Dinatla Investments, a consortium of three groups. 

Imperial R1.3bn deal

South Africa's largest listed transport group, Imperial, will increase its black shareholding to 25% through a R1.3bn deal announced December 9, qualifying it as an "empowered" company. The deal will see Ukhamba Holdings, owned by Imperial (49.9%) and its historically disadvantaged staff (50.1%), acquire 10.1% of Imperial. Imperial CE Bill Lynch said the transaction would enhance future opportunities for Imperial, in the light of the need to have good empowerment credentials to obtain government business. The deal would also empower the poorest of the poor Ukhamba's ultimate beneficiaries would increase to include all of Imperial's approximately 14,200 black employees as well as several communities. The Public Investment Commissioners (PIC), which is a rising power in shareholder activism and Imperial's largest shareholder, has given the deal its initial blessing. PIC CEO Brian Molefe said: "We'll discuss it, but I don't see any reason why we should vote against it." The deal is the culmination of Imperial's long-term empowerment strategy, which began in 1998 with the establishment of Ukhamba. Analysts like the deal, which they said was of a simpler structure than Bidvest's recent empowerment deal. Also, unlike the Bidvest deal, Imperial's empowerment deal would not be funded by existing shareholders. Lynch said the deal was cost-effective, as it had no debt requirements. 

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LUKoil steps up oil product trade with South Africa

Russian oil major, LUKoil, recently agreed with the South African company Calulo Investment, on the joint organisation of trade in oil products with not just South Africa, but the continent's south as a whole, Interfax News Agency reported. The company is not planning to register a special legal entity.
"Our operations lie in trade, without getting into assets," a LUKoil source said. The trading operations will be overseen from Geneva, where LUKoil has a subsidiary-Litasco SA, a major corporate operator for the company in moving oil and oil products to customers.
The source noted that the company is planning to extend its sphere of operations to Eastern and Western Africa. "There is a base for the development of these operations, and not just for selling goods, but also for buying. Expanding bunkerage is also planned."
"We have been working with South Africa for some time, shipments in particular, from this region will go to Singapore. However, there has been no oil product shipment stability, mainly spot contracts," the source said. "Many of the operations will involve oil products, but oil shipments are not ruled out," he added.
"Local African companies do not have sufficient experience with organising such operations, so we will impart certain trading know-how, including moving their products when it becomes necessary," the LUKoil source said.
"Work in this region is viewed as part of planned company trading-activity diversification," he added.

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Interest Rate Cut Insufficient Say Experts

Economist Iraj Abedian has slammed the Reserve Bank's decision to cut the interest rate by only half a percentage point, saying this was likely to strengthen the rand even further. "It's unbelievable ... I would not be surprised if the rand goes to below the R6 mark to the dollar ... that is bad news," said the Standard Bank group's chief economist. The Reserve Bank poured cold water on Christmas cash bonanza euphoria December 11 when the monetary policy committee decided to cut the repo rate - the rate at which money is lent to commercial banks - from 8.5% to 8%, instead of the expected one to two percentage points. South Africa's real interest rate is higher than those of all its top trading partners, including the US, UK and European Union. "The difference is gigantic ... and unfortunately this is going to cause the rand to further appreciate against the dollar and that is bad news for exporters," he said. Abedian was one of the economists who had forecast earlier in the week that a cut of at least one percentage point was certain. Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni had words of caution for consumers after announcing the cut. "Consumers must spend wisely and responsibly and continue to reduce their debts," he said. Eugene Hartmann, of Old Mutual Personal Financial Advice, agreed with Mboweni, pointing out that the prices of consumer buying spree. "Borrowers should contain their euphoria ... this news is not a licence to go on a wild spending spree over the festive season and to steep oneself in debt," Hartmann said. "How you use the money to your advantage is dependent on your personal circumstances. 

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South Africa - Angola Missed Opportunities

A war of words between Angola and South Africa over visas, business opportunities, and providing finance is damaging relations between the two countries, with little substantial political co-operation between them. As a fellow member of the Southern African Development Community and a staunch African National Congress supporter during the liberation struggle, Angola should have close ties with South Africa. However, Angola has far closer relations with Brazil, Portugal, Namibia and the US which takes most of its oil output. Part of the reason for the distant relations is that Angola, along with Zimbabwe and Namibia, intervened militarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo to prop up the government of Laurent Kabila in 1999. South Africa leaned more toward Rwanda and Uganda, which supported the rebels. With the settlement in the Congo, relations have improved, but at the political level there is hardly warmth. Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma visited Luanda in 2000 and South Africa has sent humanitarian aid to Angola to assist with the resettlement of refugees in the aftermath of Unita leader Jonas Savimbi's assassination and the cease-fire agreement. Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos has yet to reciprocate the 1998 state visit of president Nelson Mandela to his country, although there has been a long-standing invitation for him to do so. A joint commission, which brings the countries together, has only met once. Over the past three years, though, South African exports to Angola have nearly tripled. But poor political relations could be restricting the growth in business between the countries. South African banks are extending financing to Angola's state-owned oil company to help finance its stake in oil drilling operations. The Industrial Development Corporation has a financing facility for the expansion of port infrastructure. It is also looking at financing a hotel and a telecommunications project in Angola. A former South African ambassador to Angola, Roger Ballard-Tremeer, who now heads the South African-Angolan chamber of commerce, says South Africa's financing institutions have been slow to seize on opportunities, but that is changing fast. But the overriding problem in relations with Angola is the cultural divide between English and Portuguese speakers.

South Africa - Cuba 

South Africa and Cuba have further deepened their bilateral relations with the two nations committing to joint co-operation in various cross cutting areas. The move follows the conclusion of the third bilateral commission December 2 on economic, scientific, and technical and business co-operation between Havana and Pretoria. The declaration states that the two countries agreed, amongst others, to continue with the exchange of trade missions focussing on sectors such as iron, steel, chemicals, food textiles, mining, automobile and tourism. The two governments led by Foreign Ministers Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Marta Lomas vowed to strengthen ties on telecommunication, health, finance, agriculture, minerals and energy sectors. The two nations, whose relations date back to the liberation struggle against apartheid in South Africa, are also set to explore possibilities in other fields, including joint projects in science and technology, the exchange of specialists, as well as the implementation of cultural plans. Co-operation between South Africa and Cuba has resulted in the deployment of a number of Cuban doctors to South Africa's mostly rural hospital and clinics, where they are filling the gap of understaffing in health institutions. The two governments however expressed contentment at the pace of the joint commission. "Both Parties expressed their satisfaction for the friendly, cordial and open atmosphere during the exchanges, which is a reflection of the excellent friendly relationships existing between both states and peoples," declared the two.

South Africa - Saudi Arabia

Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Lindiwe Hendricks has expressed confidence in interest shown by both the South African and Saudi Arabian business sectors to further explore trade opportunities that exist between the two countries. Speaking during her week long visit in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in December, where she is leading 20 South African businesses to explore trade relations, Ms Hendricks said both countries were recognising the trade potential from both regions. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has expressed a lot of interest in developing and growing trade relations with South Africa and we have seen this interest reciprocated by South African businesses that are starting to recognise the potential that this region has for trade," she said. The South African delegation includes businesses from the health sector, agricultural sector, financial services sector and petroleum products as well as from the crafts, furniture, construction, and clothing sectors. Ms Hendricks will also be signing a trade agreement between South Africa and Saudi Arabia during the week, to further deepen and encourage trade between the two countries. This is the second trip to Saudi Arabia for the deputy minister, who first visited the Kingdom in January 2003 to attend the Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF), where she addressed the Forum. Trade between South Africa and Saudi Arabia currently stands at close to R14 billion. However, there is a large trade deficit on the South African side as Pretoria purchases a significant percentage of its oil from Saudi Arabia. In 2002 the trade deficit was R11 billion. Saudi Arabia is South Africa's sixth largest trading partner by imports, and its hoped that in time South African businesses will increase the volume of exports to Saudi Arabia and reduce the trade deficit. By exports, Saudi Arabia is only South Africa's 33rd largest trading partner.

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Sacu, Mercosur to Renew Trade Pact Negotiations

The lack of interest on the part of the business world has been given as one of the reasons for slow progress in free-trade negotiations between the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) and the Latin American trade bloc, Mercosur. Sacu was not familiar with the approach that had been agreed on between the negotiating parties, SA's trade chief negotiator, Xavier Carim, told a conference on Latin American trade hosted by the South African Institute of International Affairs. The slow progress was frustrating in view of South Africa and other developing countries' drive to enhance south-south relations, which would reduce their dependence on trade with rich nations, he said. But slow progress, particularly on Sacu's side, has seen Sacu's free trade negotiations with the US and with the European Free Trade Association surpass those with Mercosur. However, the Sacu/Mercosur agenda was recently accelerated with both parties committing to having at least three meetings in 2004. The approach of fixed preferences to which Sacu and Mercosur have agreed will see each party initially reducing tariffs on a number of products that are not "sensitive" to competition.

Expanding EU Exports

South Africa has been assured that it will face no obstacles to expanding its exports under the free-trade area accord with the European Union (EU) to a further 75-million people from May 1 2004. The assurance, welcomed by trade and industry deputy director-general Tshediso Matona December 9, had been given during formal discussions in South Africa with a team from the EU. It was also decided that negotiations would begin by April 2004 on the possible opening up of two-way trade in the automotive sector. Matona said the accord would also cover the 10 countries that will join the EU. "What is most important is that effectively this market will grow in size by 75-million people," he said. "The opportunities are boundless." He also said that the agreement was due for a five-year review, which could provide scope for new areas of co-operation. He confirmed that the EU was seeking better access for its automotive exports, but said South Africa was determined that this should not be at the expense of the Motor Industry Development Programme (MIDP). "We want to protect the integrity of the MIDP and the EU appreciates that," Matona said. "We would like to avail ourselves of the possibility of better access to the EU market, and we recognise that there is a price to be paid for that."

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New Year Message

President Thabo Mbeki says that while South Africa has made great strides in many fields the country still faces challenges such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and unemployment. The president, in his New Year message December 30, also expressed concern about irresponsible driving habits, which caused "unnecessary deaths and injuries". "As we celebrate the birth of the New Year, we must also express solidarity with those of our people who continue to live in conditions of want and deprivation," Mbeki said. He is also concerned about high levels of criminal violence and said that some citizens still had no access to clean water and modern sanitation, adequate health facilities, roads, electricity, telephones and other modern facilities. Stopping short of mentioning HIV/AIDS, he expressed concern and solidarity for those people continuing "to die earlier than they should because of poverty as well as infectious diseases". Mbeki said South Africans had more reasons to celebrate because the country's economy was in good shape, interest rates had come down and inflation was within target. Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon said: "The supreme test for our democracy in the new year will be whether the opposition can roll back the hegemony of the dominant party." Pan Africanist Congress president Motsoko Pheko said the nation should look forward to 2004 as the year that could bring "great changes to the country and prosperity to the people".


President Robert Mugabe has pulled Zimbabwe out of the 54-nation Commonwealth following a resolution passed by his ruling Zanu-PF party December 6 2003. Mugabe charged that the Commonwealth, whose leaders are meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, without Zimbabwe, had been hijacked by racists interfering in his country's internal affairs. Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002 and barred from attending this week's Heads of Government meeting. Mugabe made his announcement as the Commonwealth endorsed a second term as secretary-general for arch Mugabe critic, New Zealander Don McKinnon, rejecting by 40 votes to 11 efforts led by President Thabo Mbeki to replace him with Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The vote was seen as a strong indication that efforts to have Zimbabwe re-admitted to the Commonwealth would fail. The Zimbabwean President gave no indication when his country would withdraw from the grouping of mostly former British colonies, but a grim Mugabe announced to delegates at the end of Zanu-PF's annual two-day conference. He also announced that he was not ready to step down. There had been speculation that Mugabe, who turns 80 next year, might use the party conference in Masvingo to announce his retirement - and even possibly name a successor. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has described as unjustified the continued suspension of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth of Nations. He said the decision to keep the Southern Africa country suspended was not, as is the Commonwealth tradition, arrived at by consensus. In a letter he wrote to the African National Congress (ANC) shortly after the close of the 2003 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which ended December 8 in Abuja, Mbeki highlighted the 'strong disagreement' of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries with the CHOGM decision. Mbeki is under pressure to show dividends from his approach, and while there is no deadline for a settlement, the US and other G8 countries have signalled that South Africa has until about the middle of 2004 to prove that its policy works. If it fails, South Africa could suffer a severe loss of international goodwill. South African churches and trade unions have made clear their intense displeasure over South Africa's policy of quiet diplomacy towards Zimbabwe. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has said South Africa's stance raised the question of what would stop South Africa from lapsing into undemocratic practices if it was indifferent to what was happening north of its border. South Africa's government could find itself severely at odds with the church and its trade union allies on a vital policy in an election year if there is not success in brokering a deal, or no shift to a tougher stance on Zimbabwe. Time is no longer on President Thabo Mbeki's side. There is talk of civil uprising, coups and bloodshed. Zimbabwe faces long-term economic damage, and famine looms. Mbeki has reduced diplomatic tools at his disposal to bring about a settlement. Having stridently protested against Zimbabwe's continued exclusion from the Commonwealth, Mbeki cannot easily abandon quiet diplomacy for graduated pressure

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Drug giants extend AIDS drugs deal

GlaxoSmithKline Plc and unlisted German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim said they had agreed to allow the widespread manufacture of cheap generic versions of their patented AIDS drugs in South Africa. In an out-of-court settlement with the country's Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the companies said they would grant more licences to generic firms to produce and import antiretroviral drugs, which fight the spread of the HIV virus. South Africa has more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world - an estimated 5.3 million, equal to 13 per cent of the world's infected. The companies will charge no more than a five per cent royalty fee on the sales of those drugs in the country. Separately, South Africa's Competition Commission said it would not fine Glaxo for anti-competitive behaviour, and was discussing a similar agreement with Boehringer. In October 2003, the regulator found the firms guilty of anti-competitive behaviour over the sale of AIDS drugs and recommended they be fined and forced to allow the manufacture of generics. A Glaxo spokesman in London said the company - the world's biggest makers of AIDS drugs - would extend a voluntary licence it granted to local firm Aspen Pharmacare in October 2001 for the production of antiretrovirals (ARVs) to other companies. A second firm, Adcock-Ranbaxy, a South African affiliate of India's Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, has already been offered a licence and Glaxo will consider applications for another two possible licences for the manufacture of copies of antiretroviral drugs AZT and lamivudine. The British-based company said its preference would be to award licences to local producers but it would consider imports into South Africa if this was not practicable.

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Steel Prices Rising into 2004

Global steel prices continued to rise in dollar terms in 2003 and are headed even higher in 2004, UK steel consultants Meps said in their final report of 2003. Global steel prices are of vital importance to the South African steel industry, which had to shift a lot of its production on to the world market in the past year because of a drop in domestic demand, which has been a result of the sluggish local economy. Meps reported that the global steel cycle reached its trough in January and February last year, and has been on an upward path since. "Who would have guessed two years ago, when steel prices were at rock bottom, that by December 2003 many prices would have climbed to near-record levels," Meps said in the December edition of its International Steel Review. "Of course, steel markets have always been cyclical but the extent of the leap in prices since the last downturn has been quite remarkable. "The low point of the last cycle was reached during the period of January to February in 2002." Meps also reported that two other widely traded steel products plates and cold-rolled coils had shown a similar development, having risen 35% and 45% respectively in the past 24 months. Furthermore, because our world price average is expressed in dollars, that currency's weakness has played a part in the price escalation especially in the last few months." Looking forward, Meps suggested that "the tone in world markets is of continuing firm prices for many products". "While Chinese demand continues to grow, an impulse for strong steel prices will remain. However, the peak of the current cycle cannot be too far away," the report said.

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African Telecoms Summit Looks for Answers

A Pan-African gathering of telecoms regulators, operators, manufacturers and financiers will take place early in 2004, aiming to answer some of the key African telecoms questions. According to the Institute for International Research (IIR), which is sponsoring the African Telecommunications Summit 2004, the conference aims to answer questions about regulatory measures, investment potential, and the provision of reliable and cost-effective telecoms for all. The IIR's Robyn Lambert says that the summit will provide a forum for African regulators, operators and manufacturers to debate, brainstorm and ultimately come up with workable, equitable and financially viable solutions to these issues. "The summit will allow people to hear first hand what operators and regulators are doing in their respective countries," she says. Amongst the experts that will offer presentations at the summit are the CEOs of MTN, Transtel and Sentech, as well as the chairman of the Independent Communications Authority of SA and executives from Cell C, Vodacom, BMI-T, Nepad and the Universal Service Agency. There will also be professors from the universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand and representatives from Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Botswana and the West African Telecommunication Regulatory Authority. The summit will take place from January 28 to 30 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg and will feature keynote addresses, case studies and panel discussions. Interested parties can visit the Africa Telecommunications Summit Web site to find out more.

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