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SA’s mobile operators count losses after massive looting

By , ITWeb's news editor.
South Africa , 13 Jul 2021

South African mobile operators are still reeling after looters targeted their shops at shopping malls across Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

Over the past few days, SA has descended into chaos, with what started as protests for the release of incarcerated former president Jacob Zuma later turning violent.

The Constitutional Court recently sentenced Zuma to 15 months in prison for contempt of court after failing to appear at the State Capture inquiry.

At the time of writing, there was no end in sight for the unrest, which has claimed 19 lives in Gauteng and 26 in KZN.

Police also confirmed hundreds of arrests in the two provinces as the pandemonium continues.

While virtually any kind of business has been targeted, local telcos have also been hard-hit by this unprecedented violence, which has seen president Cyril Ramaphosa deploying the army as police were overwhelmed, leaving the looters running amok.

As the running battles between law enforcement and the looters continue unabated, the mobile operators have resorted to closing shops to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.

Fear and anxiety

Addressing the nation over the spate of violence in the country, Ramaphosa said: “Many South Africans are at this hour counting the cost to their livelihoods and property, to their shops and businesses, to their safety and security. Many more South Africans are feeling anxious and afraid.

“Parts of the country are reeling from several days and nights of public violence, destruction of property and looting of the sort rarely seen before in the history of our democracy.”

In a statement, Telkom says it has officially closed all its stores in KZN in light of recent unrest and protests across the country that are especially concentrated in that province – and has closed stores in some parts of the country, in the interest of the safety of its customers and staff alike.

“Please note on 13 July 2021, all Telkom stores across the country will be closed until the situation can be assessed fully and it can be established that it is completely safe to resume business activities,” says the telco.

Meanwhile, it encourages clients to use the self-service channels, where they will be able to receive guidance and information on the alternative assistance options, including information on the Telkom app, how to log into the self-service portal and checking coverage in their area.

“We understand that our customers will be relying on their connectivity during this time more than ever, and we have, therefore, put a range of plans in place to ensure network availability and stability. We remain steadfast in ensuring our connectivity services remain up throughout, and as such, all essential and necessary services will be running, managed and improved as needed," Telkom says.

Cell C has also confirmed to ITWeb the adverse impact of the melee.

Says the mobile operator in a statement: “We can confirm that several Cell C stores have been impacted by the protest action, with confirmed vandalism in KZN and Gauteng.”

As a precaution, Cell C says, a number of stores have been temporarily closed. “We are assessing the exact number of stores impacted and the extent of these incidents and will provide a further update when we have details.

“The safety of our staff and customers is our priority and we urge our customers to make use of our other channels to access services. Airtime can be purchased through ATMs as well as banking apps and internet banking platforms,” says Cell C.

Ongoing risk

MTN notes that since the weekend, it has closely monitored the growing incidents of rioting and looting in KZN that have now flared up in several other provinces as well.

“Our priority will always be the safety of our employees and our customers. The bulk of our stores in KZN are not open today, due to the ongoing risk of violence both related to the stores and public transport systems that have also been targeted,” says Jacqui O’Sullivan, executive for corporate affairs at MTN.

“Our primary call centre is based in KZN and has been heavily impacted. It is currently running at minimal capacity. We are referring customers to our MTN app for self-service options, as well as our social media channels MTN South Africa on Facebook and @MTNzaService on Twitter.”

MTN notes that customers are also encouraged to use the MTN WhatsApp service for support and self-service options on 083 123 0011.

Customers can also get support via MTN’s USSD service by dialling *136# or by visiting www.mtn.co.za.

“Our primary concern remains the safety and well-being of our MTN SA employees and customers, and we will provide further updates as the situation requires,” says O’Sullivan.

Says a Vodacom spokesperson: “The safety and security of our customers, staff and franchise store employees are of paramount importance and our top priority.”

According to the company, given the current protests, all Vodacom stores in KZN, many stores in Gauteng and certain stores in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, Free State and Western Cape have been closed on a temporary basis.

“We urge customers affected by the temporary store closures to make use of our self-service channels.”

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