Does an expensive web design company need its own website?

Arthur Goldstuck’s analysis of the cost of the Free State Government web site makes interesting reading. R98 million is a lot of money for a website, even when spread out over three years.

“The cobbler’s children have no shoes”

Evidence of the technical expertise and sophistication that “justified” this cost is sadly lacking, since the site was built on a R360 Wordpress template. And, more particularly, since the web design company doesn’t even have a website!

I do understand how meeting the demands of paying clients can take precedence over one’s own marketing, but an internet “expert” that doesn’t have a website simply lacks credibility. Without clear examples of their work, it’s hard to imagine the basis on which the tender adjudication committee evaluated their expertise.

Tumi Ntsele, who owns a controlling share in the joint venture awarded the tender, also owns Letlaka Media & Communication Group which doesn’t have a website either. They do have a Facebook page where they claim to offer a wide variety of both print and online production – the only problem is that it’s not clear where.

Neither Letlaka nor Ntsele have any online profile other than Facebook (where they’ve posted exactly twice since they launched their page in 2011). They’re not on Twitter, nor LinkedIn, nor Google+. Okay, that’s not entirely true. @LetlakaMedia is on Twitter, but they haven’t tweeted even once.

I can’t even imagine the criteria used to determine their expertise. (Well, actually I can. But it might be defamatory to publish it.)

“Two full-time maintenance contractors, but no maintenance”

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot wrong with the website too. Just for starters, the functionality isn’t great, with links leading to password-protected private blogs, 404 error messages (Page not found) and some links leading nowhere at all.

The writing is horrendous. Political mumbo jumbo that barely makes any sense.  Who wrote this?

“The new integrated website presence of the broader government sector in the Free State province offers us the opportunity to engage with our stakeholders with up-to-date, relevant and user-friendly information, creating multiple platforms through which we can engage with constituencies.”

Pardon? How about “We’re delighted to launch our new web site, and hope that you find it interesting and useful.”

And then there’s the comments page. Right up to 1 March, almost every single comment was spam. (Which, since it’s a WordPress site, could easily have been avoided with a free  anti-spam plug in.)

But this week there is a torrent of abuse in response to the publicity about the costs. And the comments have been left open allowing the vitriol and vulgarity to flourish. Where is the maintenance contract now?

“What is the ROI?”

Even though the quality of the website bears no relation to the price tag, the Free State Government might be forgiven for their extravagance if it was a huge hit, and was making a difference to the people, the economy or the administration of the Free State.

I obviously don’t have access to their Google Analytics but I do have access to a proprietary website analysis tool, which tells me that this site has had an average of 514 visitors per month.

Which works out to to roughly R5300 per visitor.


  1. Dr Brian Faul on April 21, 2013 at 17:27

    Is this a fact !! If it is someone should answer big time.
    I work among the poorest of the poor in this country.I have never
    Come across something so blatantly wrong and corrupt to the core
    Should it be factual.I am ashamed to call myself a citizen of this country paying taxes toward this sort of thing.
    I trust someone will make some sort of high level investigation into this.

    • Ann Druce on April 22, 2013 at 09:20

      Sadly, I don’t believe that we will see any heads roll over this debacle. But you are right, it certainly warrants an investigation.

  2. Ann Druce on March 14, 2013 at 15:58

    Today I removed the link to the Free State Govt website comments page, after checking that it was still active. It is, but the comments have become so vile I have no wish to link Octarine to that page. You could navigate there from their home page but, trust me, you don’t want to. Just one more example of the dire lack of management of their website.

  3. Fran Piggott on March 11, 2013 at 14:05

    Once again, South Africa gets tarnished with corruption at its best! Imagine how we could have exported our skills abroad, if this had been a fabulous, full functioning website for a fraction of the exorbitant cost.
    At the ECR/GIBS breakfast last Thursday, Nick Binedell, spoke, amongst other things, of the pride and belief all South African entrepreneurs should have in our beloved country. But how, I ask, can this be so with all this rot continually raising its ugly head.
    Seems like two steps forward, 10 steps backward!

    • Ann Druce on March 14, 2013 at 15:41

      You’re right, and the real cost of this is the damage to the image of all South Africans, and any reputaton for integrity that we might have had.

  4. Nick Ridout on March 10, 2013 at 06:45

    The worst part is that it is going to bring us all into disrepute. We (web designers in South Africa) must all club together now and try to form a union or an association, so we can prevent this type of thing. This is blatant fraud.

  5. Tina Cartwright on March 10, 2013 at 00:58

    In answer to you question, YES at the very least they should have a website with a portfolio of previous work. Well done on sharing this, the more this type of blatant oversight is exposed, the closer we are to eradicating it.

  6. Joan - BlogBizBuzz on March 7, 2013 at 13:47

    Morals, good standing and pride in ones work equates to a good business.

    Yes technology is evolving, learning is on-going, but charging an arm and a leg does not reap benefits. The company in question, applying for the tender should have had referrals, a website together with follow up references. Obviously both parties were at fault.

    • Ann Druce on March 14, 2013 at 15:49

      The problem lies in people mis-spending public money with impunity. Hopefully there will be consequences to discourage what can, at best, be described as woeful mismanagement.

  7. Chantal Edouard-Betsy on March 7, 2013 at 13:29

    YOH! Don’t even know what to say about this one! It’s an awful website at a ridiculous price! Surely there should be some checks and balances and hard questions asked about this one??? Crazy!

    • Joan - BlogBizBuzz on March 7, 2013 at 13:50

      Two phrases come to mind…. Smash and Grab and Daily Light Robbery.

    • Ann Druce on March 7, 2013 at 16:29

      Yes, I think the real problem is a complete lack of accountability in the public sector.

  8. Ginny on March 7, 2013 at 09:08

    Sad comparison to UK’s BEN TERRETT, digital designer who spoke at Design Indaba last week. Ben is the Head of Design for the Government Digital Service, a unit of the UK Cabinet Office tasked with transforming digital services. Highlights:
    – busy centralising 2000 websites across into 1 (I think 400 so far)
    – 2012 Olympics was a big part of the project
    – standard systems for ALL transactions, from paying library fines to car tax; bookings, etc
    – complete edit of all copy, pared to do minimum, with intuitive searchability
    – worked with Margaret Calvert (globally renowned UK street sign designer) to test fonts and text sizes; all text size standardised to avoid “hiding” unnecessary copy
    – objective is INFO (not graphic) design, all extraneous graphics or mood shots removed
    – compiled design principles in conjunction, to enable all other government services outside cabinet to follow suit and standardise
    – guiding principle “Digital services so good that people prefer using them”
    – several government services from around the world (incl W Cape I think) have visited the unit to learn
    – Although not flash or colourful, Ben was my favourite speaker; the topic could’ve been dry but he was so inspirational and passionate, humble, proud of his team
    – check out

    • Ann Druce on March 7, 2013 at 13:20

      What a stark contrast. the UK govt site is clear, easy to navigate and shows the kind of infomation real people would like (or need) to know. I’d love to know the budget allocated to this.

    • Fran Piggott on March 11, 2013 at 13:52

      Any idea how much this website cost for comparative purposes?

  9. Pat Pughe-Parry on March 7, 2013 at 07:58

    I belong to the very active South Africa Joomla User Group and the shock and disbelief about the Free State website in huge.
    One of the problems is that there is no accreditation for web developers / designers and this is something the group is looking into. End users therefore have no way of judging the skills of the tendering company other than looking at a portfolio. Even then this is not always accurate as IT staff come and go and someone who designed and created a great site may have left the company and those resources are no longer available. A big issue facing the group is how to accredit designers and developers as it is a huge area and technology changes so rapidly. Core CMS systems, thousands of extensions, different languages, version changes, graphics, security, planning, scoping ….. Managing this is a huge stumbling block.

    • Ann Druce on March 7, 2013 at 12:46

      Hi Pat,
      I can see the difficulties in developing an accreditation system in such a fast moving environment, but that would certainly have helped prevent this. What a pity some people cannot be trusted to exercise even a modicum of responsibility.

Leave a Comment