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We're more committed to ODF than ever: SA government

By   |  October 28, 2008

Open standards are critical in ensuring that the South African government both avoids vendor lock-in and promotes democracy. This is according to South Africa’s minister of home affairs, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

In a prepared speech for the opening of the recent Second International ODF conference in Pretoria, Mapisa-Nqakula said that the department of home affairs was “forging ahead to make open standards a priority” to ensure future ability to process and share documents “using formats which have significant impact on the efficiency, interoperability and accessibility of public services”.

Highlighting the importance of interoperability the minister said that “the danger of poor interoperability between systems was highlighted following the tragic tsunami on the 26th of December 2004 when efforts in Thailand to rescue the injured and identify the dead were further frustrated by the lack of integration between the systems of different government agencies.”

The minister said that the choice of format used for the representation of documents in government was “absolutely critical” to ensure easy exchange and access to state and citizen information as well as being aligned with South Africa’s open source strategy.

“On the basis of the above we made the best rational and pragmatic choice available and specified that ODF – the Open Document Format – be used as the format for interoperability of government documents. This was specified in an amendment to our Minimum Interoperability Standard (MIOS).”


The minister also addressed the recent ISO approval process of Microsoft’s OOXML document format in which South Africa, through the department of science and technology, participated.

“South Africa was particularly frustrated by the acceptance by ISO of an overlapping document specification earlier this year. The ability and willingness of corporate private interests to dominate the multi-lateral, democratic process of consensus building within ISO has raised significant concerns, both here and abroad.

“South Africa appealed the process which was followed, and its outcome, together with India, Brazil and Venezuela. It is clear that, whilst we continue to engage with ISO through our national standards body, there is much which needs to be done to modernise and reform such international institutions to prevent such problems repeating.”

However, said Mapisa-Nqakula, “far from being deterred, our enthusiasm and commitment to open standards in general and ODF in particular, is stronger than ever. A benefit of gatherings such as this one, is that it provides the opportunity for organisations and state entities with a shared agenda to explore and create new opportunities for international collaboration in the increasingly important space of information standards.”

The minister’s speech was read by home affairs director general Mavuso Msimang as the minister was unable to attend. Thanks to Aslam Raffee for the text of the speech.


10 Responses to “We're more committed to ODF than ever: SA government”

  1. rob
    October 28th, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

    So what are the stats on the progress that the government is making on this.

    Converting to ODF is not hard – just load the SUN ODF plugin into Word and then save your docs as .ODF (in fact set that as your default). Then include the link whenever you send out your documents

    But hey where is the political capital it that – why not have a conference and make some noise instead of actually doing it.

  2. Alastair
    October 28th, 2008 @ 1:54 pm

    I don’t want to speak for government but I do believe they are making good progress on this. I also don’t think that it as easy as you make out. It should be, agreed, but we’re talking about a huge organisation that is difficult to shift into a new direction.

    There are people within government that have done an enormous amount of work to get to even this point. We all wish it was easier, but it’s not.

  3. rob
    October 28th, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

    Fair points, it never ceases to amaze me how the simplist tech things get so difficult when you deal with big organisations and/or standards.

    However I think that the initial question (what has been the progress) is worth asking since this (Tectonic Oct24 2007) is “the time line of the MIOS document’s implementation. It entails four steps:

    1. Ensuring all people working in government departments can view ODF documents. This will likely be done through the use of converters and will be completed by March 2008.

    2. To supply all government published government documents in ODF or other non-proprietary formats. Although he did not specify a date, he aimed for this to be completed by the end of 2008.

    3. All internal government documents to be produced as ODF. This is not likely to be completed within the next year, but should be done by March 2009.

    4. The final phase would see the conversion of all legacy documents to ODF or other non-proprietary formats.”

    Nice to know if it is still on track since even this is stll behind the target dates sent to the DGs by SITA (still on the SITA site in tif format!)

  4. Danny Liebmerman
    October 29th, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

    As someone who has been involved with open source since 1998 – I can say that endorsement of ODF by the South African government would never have happened if Open Office had not reached it’s current level of maturity.

    Microsoft in South Africa is a powerful competitor for government business but I believe – knowing a bit about what’s happening inside the government, is that this is more of an economic than a document interchange issue.

    Note that the Rand has depreciated from 7 to almost 12 on the US Dollar since last June. The act of adopting ODF is also an endorsement for Open Office and perhaps even Ubuntu – both excellent, free Open Source products..

    Danny Lieberman

  5. Open document interchange | Israeli Software
    October 29th, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

    […] I read today that the South African government is more committed to ODF than ever. […]

  6. GNUguy
    October 29th, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

    I must compliment Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. His comments impress me as very clear and assertive. His example of the tsunami disaster effectively makes the point for consistency between government systems. What better solution for this than free open source software and GNULinux, an effort that is not profit motivated or constrained by some company’s licensing and thus crosses borders with ease.

    As to the purpose of the conference relative to making progress implementing ODF, the conference is very important. The countries that have stood against OOXML and the all too easily corrupted process of I$O should hopefully be energized to stand against Microsoft. We have all seen first-hand how unethical Microsoft and certain elected/appointed officials are. This conference is a way for the countries and people that resisted to network and provide encouragement to others to resist the influence of Microsoft.

    Talk people. Collaborate. Share knowledge. Support one another.

    Using MS’s products is short-term thinking. It’s very simply pay them now AND later or, if you don’t pay them now, you’ll pay even more later. There is no negotiating with them once they’ve established themselves within your infrastructure. Then you’ll also be subject to MS’s interpretation of standards and their idea of quality software.

  7. Boycott Novell » Does Microsoft Try to Conquer ODF to Sell Microsoft Office?
    October 29th, 2008 @ 4:15 pm

    […] According to Tectonic, which is based in South Africa, the government there is “more committed to ODF than ever.” It’s worth remembering [cref the tricks that Microsoft and its lobbyists tried to pull there, without success. In fact, South Africa filed a complaint shortly afterwards. Open standards are critical in ensuring that the South African government both avoids vendor lock-in and promotes democracy. This is according to South Africa’s minister of home affairs, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. […]

  8. Malcolm
    October 31st, 2008 @ 2:46 pm

    @GNUguy: the Minister is of the female gender… I’m sure she’ll nevertheless forgive you, if you stop using an American spell-checker (what’s the chances of it being Microsoft’s proprietary one in Word?) before posting your commentary…

  9. GNUguy
    October 31st, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

    No chance of using Microsoft’s spell check. I haven’t used any Office product for several years now. It’s always OpenOffice for me and I encourage everyone that I know to switch.

    Rest assured that I am very sorry for the gender over-sight. My humble apologies. And thank you for the correction.

  10. GB
    January 27th, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

    Having just visited now (27 Jan 2009, between 20:30 and 21:00), I was amused that I could not find ONE document available for download in ODF format (unless I missed one, or maybe I’m missing some subtle point?).

    All downloads were PDF only. I refer to rob’s point – conversion to ODF is not that difficult, and there should be some progress by now even for institutions as large an unwieldy as the government.

    The National Archives of Australia have created Xena ( to tackle conversions for them.

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