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ICASA slams unrest as comms infrastructure vandalised

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Telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has pleaded with communities to safeguard communication infrastructure against vandalism.

This, as looting and public violence continues to wreak havoc in parts of the country, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

In a statement issued yesterday, ICASA says it received reports of vandalism of communications infrastructure, including 113 network towers in some parts of the country.

The authority further condemns the ongoing acts of violence, looting and arson taking place in the country that have resulted in vandalism of network facilities and disruption of communication services.

It adds that community radio stations have also been affected, with equipment reported to have been damaged or looted. The stations include Alex FM, Ntokozo FM, Mams FM and Westside FM, to name a few.

Says ICASA: “Such wanton destruction of the broadcasting infrastructure and facilities represents a direct attack on the constitutional right of individuals and communities to access news and information that is accurate, unbiased and up-to-date about the current crisis.”

“We call on the communities to assist in guarding and protecting this critical infrastructure, and to exercise the highest levels of patriotism in this regard. Any disruption of communication services could prove disastrous and result in increased mortality as emergency calls may be directly impacted,” adds chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

Modimoeng further states that ICASA has written to the National Joint Operations and Intelligence Services to prioritise the safeguarding and protection of this critical telecommunications infrastructure.

ICASA points to the severity of destroying telecoms infrastructure, referencing the case of a Cape Town man who was found guiltyof stealing cell tower equipment from MTN.

The man was found guilty of 25 counts of theft and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for each of the 25 counts, collectively amounting to 500 years of direct imprisonment. However, the court suspended seven years of each of the 20 years, which resulted in an effective 13 years imprisonment for each count.

“The judgement is a clear indication that the impact of battery theft and site vandalism is of a treasonous nature,” notes Modimoeng.

ICASA says it will continue to monitor the situation closely through its regional offices in all nine provinces.

Despite its proven critical nature, South Africa’s telecoms infrastructure has been a target of vandalism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic swept through the globe, campaigns spreading dangerous myths linking 5G to the outbreak of the virus went viral on social media platforms. South Africa was not spared, resulting in attacks on the country’s cellphone network tower infrastructure.

In addition, criminal syndicates have increasingly targeted South African mobile operators’ base stations, stealing or vandalising infrastructure like batteries, copper cables and diesel.The theft and vandalism of this infrastructure has resulted in mobile operators losing hundreds of millions of rands.

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