Misinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories have led to the destruction of cellphone towers by those who believe the coronavirus is linked to 5G communications.
Mobile networks have noted with concern the increasing number of attempts to burn down or otherwise destroy cellphone towers due to these conspiracy theories.
Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has condemned the destruction of network infrastructure, citing the WHO’s statement that there is no evidence to support the theory that 5G communications cause the coronavirus.
Mobile operators in South Africa have reported mysterious fires started at their cellphone towers, which are not aligned with the standard methods of criminals who attempt to steal batteries and copper from these base stations.
MyBroadband spoke to local networks about the concerning trend of infrastructure vandalism caused by 5G conspiracy theories.
All the networks we spoke to reaffirmed the position that there is no credible evidence linking 5G to the spread of the coronavirus.
Vodacom said it continues to monitor the situation in KwaZulu-Natal following the destruction of cellphone towers by adherents to 5G conspiracy theories last week.
“There was little to no impact on the network and the vandalised infrastructure is being repaired,” Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy told MyBroadband.
“Of the network infrastructure which was damaged, one 5G site was affected.”
“We are working closely with local law enforcement to bring these criminals to book as well as to help protect our network infrastructure across the country,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy added that the modus operandi of local vandals has changed from stealing components to burning down infrastructure.
“Vodacom has evidence to suggest that the torching of network infrastructure, including 5G sites, in KZN is fuelled by the latest disinformation campaign on social media platforms, linking 5G and COVID-19,” he said.
“The modus operandi in the current wave of attacks is to burn down cellphone network infrastructure. By contrast, in typical base station vandalism cases, thieves break into cellphone network base stations in order to steal batteries and copper.”
MTN executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said that two MTN sites have been burned recently in eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality.
“There have been concerns about every technology wave, whether it was 2G, 3G or 4G and to date, no concerns have been proven. MTN has, and will continue to adhere to the laws, safety and health guidelines set up World Health Organisation and are committed to ongoing compliance on all such matters,” she said.
“Security measures have already been in place, and we’ll continue putting more security to protect our network infrastructure.”
“South Africa’s ability to meaningfully play a role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is inextricably linked to greater access to 4G and 5G technologies and these baseless conspiracy theories achieve nothing more than senselessly undermining much-needed progress, for all South Africans,” O’Sullivan added.
Telkom said it is monitoring these misinformation campaigns which have sparked the recent attacks on 5G tower infrastructure in South Africa.
“Telkom has not suffered attacks of 5G sites, however, we have seen specific instances of site vandalism incidents over the last few days which do not follow the normal crime trends and most probably linked to the 5G misinformation,” the operator said.
“Three non-5G Telkom sites in the Inanda area were damaged by fires started by unknown persons – we suspect that this is related to misinformation about 5G.”
“As a result of the high levels of vandalism we constantly monitor towers to try and reduce disruption for customers from outages associated with vandalism,” it added.
Telkom currently experiences an average of around 20 incidents of vandalism every month across the country.
“Although the average has remained the same, we are concerned that these new reasons may increase the levels of vandalism that are already quite high,” Telkom added.
“However, in response to this threat Telkom had regular security patrols at its towers in the affected areas and also put security response team on high alert to be able to provide rapid response should security threats arise.”
Rain CEO Willem Roos told MyBroadband that it has not suffered any damage to 5G towers.
“Rain has not suffered any damage to 5G towers flowing from the conspiracy theories, although our 4G and 5G towers continue to be plagued by battery theft,” Roos said.
“Rain’s message to South Africa is that 5G can bring affordable, unlimited broadband internet to more South Africans.”
“Given our country’s economic woes, this is something we desperately need to boost growth and employment,” he said.