Telecom Companies Face the Brunt of South African Violence

South Africa has been a witness to a wave of crippling unrest that has brought the country to an absolute halt.

These instances of unrest started on 8th of July 2021when the country’s ex-president Jacob Zuma was arrested for contempt of the court. These reactionary unrests have brought on several waves of violence which has led to massive destruction in several industrial sectors of the country. In the wake of this unrest, the telecom industry has taken a huge hit, leading to a disruption of communication services which include cellular and radio services.

The protest started in the KwaZulu-Natal region and gradually escalated to the province of Gauteng in Johannesburg. According to a report by Global Times, the death toll as of 18th July was 212. This is the worst case of violence the country has seen since the 1990s during the end of apartheid. Along with the huge number of deaths there have been several instances of looting, destruction of property, and vandalism. Several telecom companies including MTN and Telekom faced the brunt of this violence as a number of their base stations and warehouses were damaged, leading to a complete disruption of services. Following the protests MTN South Africa’s Chief Executive Officer, Godfrey Motsa wrote an article stating the level of impact faced during the protests.

“As I write this, MTN South Africa has closed over 100 stores mostly in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal. Over 100 base stations are currently down, and our technicians can’t safely reach the sites for repairs, due to the ongoing unrest. Over 1000 MTN employees can’t get to work and millions of calls and queries from our customers cannot be attended to, as our primary call centre remains inaccessible. MTN South Africa directly and indirectly creates employment for over 20 000 people but we are obviously not the only business going through this. The negative multiplier effect of halted business is further crippling our economy, which was just starting to show some small green shoots of recovery, from the pandemic.” 

– Godfrey Motsa

Along with the impact on the telecom companies, several radio stations were looted and vandalized, which led to a major disruption of communication services in the country.  The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA/the Authority) condemned the unrest in a press release.

“The Authority has further received reports of vandalism of communications infrastructure, including 113 network towers in some parts of the country. Such wanton destruction of the broadcasting infrastructure and facilities represents a direct attack on the constitutional right of individuals and communities to access news and information that is accurate, unbiased, and up to date about the current crisis. The Authority accordingly condemns such criminal behavior in the strongest of terms.”

– ICASA Press Release

The country has seen some respite in protests however, since the beginning of this week. With the deployment of large numbers of army troops in the streets, the country hasn’t seen any cases of violence since Monday of this week. As the telecom and the communication industry recuperates from the huge impact of the violence, we can only hope for the violence to cease and for peace to ensue.

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