Mobile networks in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are experiencing outages because of damage to network infrastructure during the violent protests.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) said earlier this week it had received reports of vandalism of communications infrastructure.
The vandalism included 113 mobile network towers in some parts of the country.
“Such destruction of the broadcasting infrastructure and facilities represents a direct attack on the constitutional right to access news and information,” Icasa said.
It was, unfortunately, only the start. Since then, rioters have vandalised many more mobile sites.
Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy told MyBroadband on Tuesday and Wednesday that there was a connectivity issue affecting customers in and around Howick in KwaZulu-Natal. A fault in Telkom infrastructure was the primary reason for the issue.
Other areas affected include Hilton, Mooi River, Nottingham Road, Currys Post, Mphophomeni, Wartburg and Albert Falls.
“Unrest in these areas meant that it wasn’t safe for technicians to immediately visit affected sites physically to remedy faults,” Kennedy said.
Fires also impacted base stations at malls. It is estimated that between five and ten mall base stations were damaged.
Kennedy said Vodacom had put contingency measures in place to keep customers connected, particularly in areas impacted by the unrest.
MTN South Africa CEO Godfrey Motsa said yesterday that over 100 of their base stations were down, and their technicians could not safely reach the sites for repairs.
“Over 1,000 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,” he said.
MTN South Africa has also closed over 100 stores in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal.
“As the situation calmed down and the country began to re-open, our technicians have been able to attend to some of the base stations. Currently, 31 sites are still down in KZN and 12 in Gauteng,” MTN said.
“MTN will urgently deploy technicians to restore connectivity as soon as it is safe to go to these areas.”
Rain said it has sites in the affected areas that have been vandalised and are down.
“Our teams are currently working to repair the sites’ power, backhaul or physical equipment as quickly as possible,” Rain told MyBroadband.
While Rain does not have retail outlets, it still has a challenge to get SIMs to new subscribers in the affected areas as their deliveries via courier partners are severely impacted.
“We ask our customers in affected areas to bear with us in terms of delivery and connectivity,” Rain said.
Andre Ittman, chief operations officer at Cell C told MyBroadband the unrest has not significantly affected their network up to date or caused major network outages.
“However, we can confirm that one Cell C network tower has been vandalised within the Durban area,” said Ittman.
There are no reports of consumers being adversely impacted as there are six other sites available within a two-kilometre radius of the damaged site.
Those sites would absorb the coverage provided by the damaged site to ensure customers stay connected.
“The damage above is being assessed, and any attempts to repair can only be made once the assessment is complete,” said Ittman.
“The current fuel shortages and available means of entry to RAN (Radio Access Network) sites can potentially impact network availability in high-risk areas going forward.”
MyBroadband asked Telkom for feedback about damage to their networks, but they could not immediately provide details.