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South Africa wishes ‘April Fools’ joke was true

An April 1st story in South Africa swept the country like wild fire. The untrue story claimed that South Africa was to abandon its planned switchover from analogue to digital TV.

Now that the bills for the conversion process are coming in, it is clear that many locals wish the April Fools hoax was in fact a true statement.

A report from the nation’s Universal Service & Access Agency (USAASA) states that the country has under-estimated the true cost of adopting digital TV. It says the country, one way or another, is going to have to stump up another Rand 6 billion (about $500 million) to finish the job.

The report states that each and every home will have to pay around R800 ($66) for a new converter box and aerial, which sends that aspect of the bill to about R4 billion. That sum could balloon to R6.5 billion if – as expected – the government provides extra subsidises boxes for poorer citizens. The government has already promised to supply 5 million boxes, but some locals are arguing that the final claimants for the subsidy scheme could top 8 million homes.

This is confirmed by USAASA CEO Zani Nkosi, who says the agency’s “funds will never be sufficient”. He says it will engage government to raise the balance, and currently only has enough cash to cover border areas and the Northern Cape region. Nkosi says the available funding will cover slightly more than 1.5 million boxes at the moment as USAASA has R2 billion available.

Critics of the government say that the country’s lack of awareness – and cash to implement the process – is a ticking time bomb and “absolutely unaffordable”.

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