The New Age: Shack dwellers’ phones could be cut by Rica

Shack dwellers’ phones could be cut by Rica

Cellphone giants need clients in rural areas to register before June deadline

Clive Rubin

BY THE end of June, several million cellphone subscribers could be disconnected. That is the cutoff date by when cellphone companies will have to forfeit existing contract and pre-paid customers who are unable to provide both valid identity documents and proof of residence.

This is according to regulations imposed by the Regulation and Interception of Communications Act (Rica).

Vodacom and Cell C estimate that at present nearly a fifth of their customers have not signed up for Rica. MTN didn’t provide any substantive details as they’re a publicly listed company and are in a closed reporting season.

Cell C said only 10% of its customers in seven provinces have yet to comply and register details with the telephone companies. But in KwaZulu-Natal 27.8% of Cell C’s customers and in Gauteng, 24.6% of their customers had yet to comply.

The company is aiming its communication campaigns concerning Rica at people living in agricultural, tribal or sparse areas, as well as those living in townships.

Cell C’s regulatory compliance specialist, Phila Mtya, said 40% of these customers “could, but have yet to” provide details for Rica.

Mtya is hopeful that those who have yet to sign up in the mainly rural areas will be able to do so by obtaining affidavits from tribal chiefs – or with the help of local shops and schools, which will be able to provide local addresses.

Vodacom, the dominant cellphone company with 43% market share, has 3.7million customers that have yet to register. Of those, 650000 have contracts and about 3million are prepaid customers.

Maureen Mnisi, the Gauteng chairperson of the Landless Peoples Movement, said this was a big concern for people living in informal settlements.

“You cannot receive letters, so it is already very difficult to communicate. We need cellphones. If you have an emergency at night, how can you access hospitals or emergency services? This is all about service delivery.”

Deon Rudman, deputy director general in the legislative division of the Department of Justice, said companies had “competing priorities” and that Rica was dealing only with serious crime and tracing criminals.

All three cellphone companies have asked the government to take an active role in communicating the need to register for Rica.