With big changes underway for the South African domain name industry, the ZA Central Registry (ZACR) has issued the following statement.

History is a beautiful phenomenon; it makes one nostalgic about where one comes from and informs where one wants to go based on past experiences and lessons learnt.

People talk about their roots with a sense of pride and admiration that really cannot be articulated.

I suppose the same holds true for an organization like the ZA Central Registry NPC, the contracted administrator for a number of .ZA second level domain names, such as, co.za, net.za, org.za, and web.za. It has spent more than 30 years managing the aforementioned second level domain names, starting with about 400 co.za domain name registrations only and now boasting an impressive 1,3-million second level domain name registrations.

You need only look at the graph below to appreciate that this accomplishment can be attributed in no small measure to the vision and fortitude of the people, the technologies, processes, pricing strategies that were applied over the said 30-year period, and most significantly, our customers who have been loyal to us over the years.

Let’s unpack this graph a little more. Let’s start with the pricing policies that have been applied within this space over the 30-year period. Interviews with pioneers of this space indicate that co.za domain names cost about R200.00 many moons ago, then moved to R150.00 per domain name transaction and eventually as the numbers grew organically it became prudent to lower the per domain name fee to R55.00 from 1 April 2021 to make it affordable and more competitive.

Whilst we use terms such as affordable and competitive, we believe that price was never the sole factor for the success of the ZA-managed namespaces, says ZACR CEO, Lucky Masilela.

Linked to this price evolution, open-source domain name system technologies were evolving at a rapid pace such that antiquated hard copy applications were replaced with email-based registration process and in 2012 to a fully automated domain name registration processes built on Extensible Provisioning Protocols, i.e., internationally developed best practice technical and other domain name management standards and principles.

Looking through the magnifying glass, one can deduce that technical enhancements that made the domain name registration process seamless and easy was a major contributor for organic growth of the ZA-managed domain names, as evidenced by the fact that it took an estimated 20 years to reach about 600 000 registrations as opposed to another over 600 000 registrations over a 10-year period from 2012.

Simultaneously with price and technology, ZACR became more corporatised and in that corporatisation process, a strategic decision was made to segment the business by retaining the NPC part as the overarching financial, legal, and customer-centric operational hub whilst outsourcing its pure technical arm to a private entity called Domain Name Services (Pty) Ltd (DNS).

Now, many would look at this kind of corporate segregation with raised eyebrows, yet at the time it was critical for ZACR to provide sound, innovative and robust technical solutions, and the only way to achieve this was through the outsourcing arrangement alluded to above. The technical gurus were left to focus on continuously enhancing the Registry’s technical prowess.

This segmentation allowed for a dynamic growth of the sector with the operator focusing on its clients, the backend provider on a robust network and the regulator on policy enablement.

Additionally, our accredited Registrars became our ‘go to market channel partners’, now sitting at almost 680 accredited partners. Cumulatively, these interventions contributed to the growth spurt that you see between 2012-2020, making the ZA namespace the envy of its African counterparts.

Scalability, automated domain name registration platform, value-added services like DNSSEC and Registry Lock became buzz words over the past years and the simple desire to service our various stakeholder groups have brought us to this point in our journey.

As many of you already know, ZACR’s Registry Operator Agreement with ZADNA was terminated in July 2021, starting a process that would ultimately lead to the ‘falling of the curtain’ over ZACR’s stint as the designated Central Registry Operator for  the four .ZA-managed second level domain names.

Notwithstanding, and without hesitation, we can assure our Registrars, Registrants, and other stakeholders that we will continue to perform the Registry Functions to the best of our abilities as ZACR until the end of September 2022. By now you are wondering what next?

Again, as many of you know, ZADNA issued a Request for Information and, subsequently, a Request for Proposal (RFP) in September 2021, which invited bidders to apply for the ability to become the new Registry Operator for what they termed the ‘four commercial second level domain names’.

ZACR and its technical partner DNS have managed the four commercial .ZA domain name extensions for over 30 years and believe that the accumulation of skills, knowledge, and expertise between these two entities placed them in the best position to jointly apply to ZADNA’s RFP. What better way to formalise a relationship that has stood the test of time and worked to the benefit of the .ZA namespace.

This strategic imperative gave birth to ZARC, the ZA Registry Consortium, which is a reengineered, consolidated joint venture between ZACR and DNS. It might be an opportune time to pause so that you may reflect on this announcement.

ZADNA has published its list of potential bidders for the RFP, which included ZARC, which will assume the Registry Functions with effect from 1 October 2022,  irrespective of where ZADNA and ZARC are in their contracting phases.

This switchover bodes well for the seamless transition and stability of the local namespace as it requires minimum disruption of critical Registry Services whilst contractual and/or licensing requirements are resolved.

Ultimately, we believe that this would undoubtedly herald a new chapter for the ZA commercial domain name space as ZARC has some exciting innovations to take the local domain name business to the next level of excellence.

In this journey we also plan to make the .ZA commercial namespace a known commodity, to grow the accredited registrar base and inadvertently grow domain name registrations so that we can retain the .ZA namespace’s #1 status  in Africa. Some may ask, why the full circle at  institutional and operational  levels, and the answer is quite simple.

It has provided us with the benefit of hindsight, allowed us to explore our strengths and the opportunities that present themselves to become a homegrown formidable force that is committed to protecting the integrity, reliability, efficiencies and trust in the .ZA commercial namespaces, the ability to identify our strengths through a segmented arrangement and most importantly, to identify our vulnerabilities so that these do not become our Achilles heels as we continue to define ourselves in this name space going forward.