R539 million — The cost of replacing South Africa’s looted ATMs

South Africa’s major banks are expected to spend millions on replacing hundreds of ATMs damaged or destroyed during looting earlier this month.

Speaking during a media briefing on Thursday, the Banking Association of South Africa (BASA) managing director, Bongiwe Kunene, outlined the banking sector’s plans to restore services to affected areas.

Looters damaged or destroyed around 1,400 ATMs and 269 bank branches during multiple days of unrest in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

This has left banking customers in certain locations without physical access to services, including Sassa grant beneficiaries who want to withdraw money at ATMs.

Videos and photos shared on social media showed ATMs ripped to pieces and stripped of their cash.

In one instance, one criminal had supposedly even attempted to blow up an ATM using a hand grenade, which was found in the depositing slot of a machine in Richard’s Bay.

Although banks were still assessing the extent of the damage and working on recovery plans, Kunene said the indicative average replacement cost of an ATM was R385,000.

Multiply this by the number of ATMs that were vandalised — 1,400 — and it would cost a total of R539 million to replace all the impacted machines.

The actual cost to bring ATMs back online in the affected locations could be less, depending on the extent of the damage to the machines.

While BASA did not distinguish between “vandalised” and “destroyed” ATMs, if the extent of the damage on ATMs among other banks is similar to Nedbank’s, the majority of the other banks’ ATMs will also need to be replaced.

Nedbank’s executive for self-service banking, Preni Naidoo, told MyBroadband that 290 of its 325 vandalised ATMs were completely destroyed, while only 35 were in a repairable state.

The table below shows how many ATMs from each bank were confirmed to be destroyed or damaged and the rough cost to replace these based on BASA’s figures.

ATMs vandalised during looting
Bank ATMs destroyed/and or damaged Rough estimated cost to replace ATMs
Absa 200+ R77 million
Capitec Bank 100-150 R38.5 – R57.75 million
FNB No details provided
Nedbank 290 R111.65 million
Standard Bank 220 R84.7 million

Kunene also said it could take about two months to replace the vandalised ATMs.

Despite the reduction in available cash points, Kunene said there was no cash shortage in the impacted locations.

While it’s still unclear how much money was plundered from the ATMs, BASA has estimated this could be as much as R20 million.

Many of these notes will likely be dye-stained due to the security mechanisms built into the ATMs.

This would make them worthless as legal tender, the South African Banking Risk Information Centre has warned.

People found in possession of these notes could become suspects of criminal investigations.

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R539 million — The cost of replacing South Africa’s looted ATMs