President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday that South Africa cannot allow its economy to be held back by the US-China trade war.
Speaking at the Digital Economy Summit, Ramaphosa said local telecommunications companies, which he did not name, had written to him before he attended last weekend’s G20 summit, urging him to intervene.
“We cannot afford to have our own economy being held back as there is this fight that the US is fighting born out of their own jealousy,” said Ramaphosa.
He said the telecommunication firms had written to him concerned about the impact the trade war would have in relation to the Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies.
“They said, ‘Mr President, this tussle that is happening between China and the United States around a company called Huawei is going to hurt us because we want to go to 5G and only this company Huawei can lead us to 5G but the United States is now punishing them’,” he said at the Digital Economy summit.
Super-fast 5G technology is being rolled out worldwide.
South Africa is at an early stage of implementation due to delays in the allocation of spectrum needed by telecommunications firms such as Telkom, MTN, Vodacom and Cell C in order to roll out the next-generation technology.
Huawei has been a focus of the trade war that has hung over financial markets, with President Donald Trump recently agreeing to loosen restrictions on the company after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit.
Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko told Reuters on the sidelines of the summit that he had been among the firms that wrote to the president but that the problem extended beyond Huawei.
“It (the trade war) creates uncertainty because we don’t know when it’s going to settle, so once there is uncertainty it hampers how you think of investment. Once you start to slow down investment then it has a knock on effect on the economy,” said Maseko.
In May, Huawei was added to the so-called Entity List, which bans American firms from selling to it without special permission, as punishment for alleged actions against US national security interests.
Huawei Chief Digital Transformation Officer Edwin Diender said on the sidelines of the summit that the company was grateful the telecoms firms had written to Ramaphosa.
“No one asked them so that’s very applaudable,” Diender said.