South Africa’s digital migration has been delayed once more, this time with no set implementation date. The Constitutional Court ruled to strike down the government’s digital migration plans, just two days before the switchover was scheduled to take place.

What has happened?

In a unanimous judgment on 28 June, the Constitutional Court determined that the government’s order declaring the analogue switch-off date and the imposed deadline to register for STBs was unconstitutional, invalid, and to be set aside.

The legal action was taken by the owner of the private television channel,, eMedia, as well as Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and the SOS Support Public Broadcasting (SOS) Coalition. It was brought before the Constitutional Court against the Minister of Communications and Technologies, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the minister’s decision to set the analogue switch-off date was unlawful due to the government’s negligence to establish the number of South Africans who would be left without access to television if the analogue switch-off proceeded. The Court also determined that registration of the Set-Top Boxes (STBs) – devices that can convert digital signals to analogue – and the imposed deadline was irrational. It said the Communications Minister also failed to first give adequate notice to the industry and affected parties, like MMA and SOS, to seek their views on the matter before determining a switch-off date.

“In the result, [Minister Ntshavheni’s] decision not to give notice and take account of the representations received on the analogue switch-off with the public or affected parties was found to be unlawful,” the Constitutional Court said in a media release.

In a joint statement, MMA and SOS deemed the Constitutional Court’s ruling “a win for democracy”.

“It is a win for people who otherwise would have lost critical means of access to information,” the groups said. “The court undertook to safeguard the wellbeing of the millions of people who otherwise would have been plunged into darkness and deprived of the basic right to freedom of expression and that of access to information […] The ruling of the constitutional court is in accordance with MMA and SOS’s argument that the registration process to secure a set-top box (STB) was defective with no robust public communication, which goes against the objective of allowing the indigent households to duly register.”

The groups maintained that their goal is to have the digital migration process completed but in an effective and efficient way that ensures that those who still rely on analogue signals to access information do not suffer from interruptions. “This judgement gives government an opportunity to ensure that a fair and complete process unfolds, and that no communities are excluded from the migration process,” they said.

Why was the Constitutional Court involved?

In March 2022, the High Court extended the switchover from March 31 to June 30, in a ruling brought before it also by, MMA, and SOS. However, the High Court dismissed the application to have the migration reconsidered entirely and said that it would be unreasonable to delay a process that will eventually benefit all citizens due to an unknown number of households that would be affected by the switchover.

However, the applicants pursued further action in the Constitutional Court. In their fresh applications,, MMA, and SOS argued that Minister Ntshavheni had a duty to act lawfully, follow a rational process, and take proper notice of representations made. They maintained that there was a duty for public consultations, including with the applicants, before imposing the STB registration cut-off date determining the analogue switch-off date.

Minister Ntshavheni maintained that she had not violated certain constitutional rights nor reneged on any of the government’s public promises. She said too that she had not acted in a procedurally unfair or irrational manner.

What’s next?

The South African government is expected to undertake a renewed migration process with the continued rollout of free STBs – a process that is far behind schedule. MMA and SOS have said they will be paying close attention to the process and called on the Communications Minister to guarantee that meaningful public consultation is held to ensure a “just and fair digital migration”.

Over the last year, South Africa’s government has worked to prepare households for the switch-off, with poor households that rely on analogue TV being offered a subsidy to pay for their installation of STBs.

The Conversation reported that just over 500,000 households out of 3.75 million qualifying households had been issued with set-top boxes by late last year, according to government figures submitted in court.

Both supporters and opponents of the previous switch-off dates agree that digital migration is needed. Public broadcaster SABC, for instance, has said the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting offers significant benefits, including enhanced quality of SABC’s offerings; more content variety and choices for the public, including all 19 SABC radio stations; and the public broadcaster’s expanded competitive advantage. However, the public broadcaster had warned a premature switchover would not only threaten the rights of millions of needy households but also threaten the public broadcaster’s turnaround plan.

Header image: South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) Television Park in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. It offers television facilities in Broadcast, Production and Post-production for SABC1, SABC2, SABC3, SABC Encore, SABC Sport, SABC News, SABC Education and all SABC Content in South Africa. Credit: THEGIFT777/iStock