South Africa Struggles to Prevent Disruptions to Phone Services Amid Outages


South Africa is currently witnessing its worst power crisis in living memory. The national power grid has become unreliable, leading to up to 10 hours of blackouts a day. This has crippled the African country’s economy, leading to public anger and frustration. In light of this, telecommunications companies such as Vodacom South Africa, MTN, and Telkom are spending millions to install solar panels, backup batteries, and wind turbines in order to keep their networks running. This includes capital expenditure of about 9 billion rand for MTN, 150 million rand for Telkom, and over 300 million rand for Vodacom for fuel, battery replacements and repairs, in order to offset the impact of these blackouts.

Vodacom, Africa’s leading telecommunications company, is majority owned by London-listed Vodafone and is spending a lot to stay ahead in the market. Sitho Mdlalose, Managing Director of Ops at Vodacom, is leading the charge to ensure the network stays up and running by deploying batteries, diesel generators, and solar panels wherever possible. They are also requiring theft-proof measures, such as reinforced concrete blocks, to prevent theft of batteries and cables. But these measures are limited to high revenue areas and metro cities, leaving customers and businesses without proper coverage whenever the power is out.

Mary-Jane Mphahlele is one of these customers. She is a 29-year-old lawyer and businesswoman living in the city of Polokwane. When the power goes out, she has no way of getting in touch with potential clients, leading to a decrease in revenue for her travel agency.

The government, however, is taking measures to improve the situation. President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a national state of disaster and regulators are considering measures to ease the pain for telecoms companies. The industry is asking for share power infrastructure, temporary relaxations of visa regulations, fuel rebates and the ability to freely roam to other networks. For now, it is up in the air as to whether the government will heed these requests.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that telecommunications companies are taking it upon themselves to keep the nation connected amidst this crisis. They are channeling resources and funds to ensure that their networks remain connected and operational. To make sure that they stay ahead, Vodacom is focusing on more advanced CAPEX portfolios, such as 5G rollouts. However, they are also facing challenges such as criminal attempts to steal their equipment, batteries and fuel, and potential delays in network upgrades.

This power crisis is a stark reminder of the importance of communication in South Africa as well as the potential danger posed by lack of it. It is up to the telecommunications companies to keep the nation connected and safeguard the economic side of things at the same time. It is a balance that companies like Vodacom, MTN, and Telkom are grappling with, and it remains to be seen if the government will intervene.