Who sabotaged Vodacom?

Vodacom network problems made headlines last week, with consumers across South Africa lashing out at the cellular provider for the lack of services on Thursday 30 June.

Vodacom said that the problems were caused by transmission failure, and made it clear that the outage had nothing to do with the RICA process as some speculation suggested.

Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys then dropped a bombshell when he said in a radio interview that Vodacom had been victims of sabotage on their transmission network.

Uys told Jacaranda DJ Darren Scott that one of their transmission links was sabotaged, evident “because we could see the holes were dug in two places exactly in the right spot [and] cut just our cable off.”

This was widely misinterpreted to mean that the recent network problems were partly caused by sabotage. Vodacom spokesperson Portia Maurice explained that the sabotage incident in fact happened in May 2011 and that it had nothing to do with Vodacom’s more recent network problems.

This statement by Maurice not only clarified that last week’s outage was not related to sabotage, but also disqualified the Germiston fibre break on Vodacom’s network on 17 June, which was caused by a contractor of one of Vodacom’s direct competitors. “There was no proof of any malice with the fibre break in Germiston in June,” one source told MyBroadband.

Vodacom Fibre Cut
Vodacom Fibre Cut

Maurice explained that the sabotage incident in May involved holes being dug in specific places where Vodacom has sub-surface fibre cable links, after which only Vodacom’s cables were cut and the holes then filled up again.

What is particularly telling in this case is that the person who cut the cable sleeves had to know which fibre cables were Vodacom’s to ensure that only their network was affected by the vandalism.

Vodacom Fibre Cut
Vodacom Fibre Cut

Further information has now emerged about the event to which Uys referred. The cable cut took place on Vodacom’s Centurion-Midrand route late in the evening of 19 May 2011.

This raises the question: who could have been responsible for the sabotage?

One possibility is that a copper thief with a working knowledge about sub-surface cable networks dug up the sleeves and randomly selected a sleeve to cut, only to discover that they were fibre cables (instead of copper) which have very little value.

Vodacom fibre hole filled
Vodacom fibre hole filled

However, it is unlikely that this person would have gone through the trouble of filling up the hole again which would simply place them at the scene of the crime for longer.

It is also unlikely that the sabotage come directly from one of Vodacom’s competitors, said a source. “A far more likely scenario is that the vandalism was caused by someone who works within the industry and was either angry at Vodacom or has strong ties to a competitor,” he said.

Vodacom has launched an investigation into this event, as well as the other network problems, to ensure that service disruptions are minimized in the event of transmission link failures.

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Who sabotaged Vodacom?