MultiChoice has spent millions of rands preparing to kit out television studios at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, only to be told at the last minute that the arrangement was off because of China.
President Cyril Ramaphosa was supposed to launch the studio during the AU summit last weekend. It was meant to be a flagship project by South Africa’s Department of Communications in partnership with MultiChoice to coincide with Ramaphosa’s term as AU chair this year.
South Africa’s Ambassador to the AU, Xolisa Makaya, said: “When I came here at the end of September my team started engaging with the AU only to be told there was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the AU Commission and China to refurbish the same studio.”
He said the MOU, which is legally binding, was signed in 2015, and even though South Africa was shocked to be informed about this after so much work had been done, no malice was suspected.
“As government we hold the view that this was simply a lack of proper communications within the AU Commission.”
China built the AU’s $200 million headquarters and gifted it to the continent in 2012.
In 2018 there were reports that China was using the servers in the building to spy on the AU. Business Insider has reliably been informed that MultiChoice has spent at least R27m on the work already, and that there was deep disappointment in the company.
But MultiChoice Group Senior Manager for Communications Benedict Maaga didn’t want to comment and referred all queries to the Department of Communications Director-General, Robert Nkuna.
“Unfortunately we have nothing further to add on this matter,” Maaga said.
Nkuna said South Africa volunteered to assist the AU with the studio after the AU ministers’ meeting in Addis Ababa in 2017 where this matter was discussed as a priority for the continental body.
“We communicated our offer to the AU through the normal diplomatic channels. We received the consent of the AU Commission in writing,” he said.
Nkuna said the department would soon send a “technical delegation” to Addis Ababa “to reach finality in a short space of time so that those who are supporting us do not incur further costs as a result”.
Nkuna said there were still negotiations about South Africa getting involved in training, provision of ICT equipment, and the digitisation of the AU archives. A local company has been appointed to ship the equipment back to South Africa.
Spokesperson for the AU Commission Chairperson, Ebba Kalondo, referred queries to the AU’s director of communications, Lesley Richer, whose messages didn’t go through on Saturday.