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5G-coronavirus falsehoods threaten telecoms investment, says minister

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Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: GCIS)
Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. (Photo source: GCIS)

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has slammed recent attacks on the country’s cellphone network towers.

Campaigns suggesting that people are getting COVID-19 from 5G towers have once again been reignited, with the latest shared by an ANC councillor at the eThekwini municipality in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

A statement released by the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) states that Ndabeni-Abrahams has “condemned the burning and destruction of cellphone network tower infrastructure and urged the South African Police to arrest those responsible for this anarchy”.

According to the DCDT’s statement, three towers belonging to Vodacom and MTN were burnt and destroyed between Tuesday and Wednesday this week in KZN.

Ndabeni-Abrahams’s statement describes the misinformation campaign as a threat to investments made into telecoms network infrastructure.

“It is regrettable that the much-needed network infrastructure is being destroyed,” she says. “The country currently needs resilient and high-speed connectivity for every citizen to enable them to participate meaningfully in the digital economy. Furthermore, mobile telephony is crucial in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“The destruction of network towers compromises multi-pronged efforts and initiatives to stem the spread of the virus. We therefore urge the police to arrest anyone who is threatening of removing infrastructure network stations or towers.”

Last year, countries such as the UK and Netherlands reported cases of arson or sabotage attacks on telecom towers, as anti-5G groups continued to damage 5G infrastructure.

In SA, telecoms operators Vodacom, MTN and Rain have, in recent months, started to deploy commercial 5G networks in some parts of the country.

Last month, Vodacom began rolling out its 5G network in KZN, saying its customers with 5G-enabled devices, and within a 5G coverage area, are now able to access the new 5G network in the province.

The DCDT points out that the myths linking 5G networks to the outbreak of the virus have been dispelled by both the World Health Organisation as well as the national Department of Health.

“We also need to remind South Africans that spreading fake news or disinformation about COVID-19 is a punishable offence. Those involved in the destruction of infrastructure are not only breaking the law, but also violate people’s right to access information,” adds Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Currently the department is finalising a draft policy for the rollout of 5G networks. This process will be subjected to public consultation as is required by the Electronic Communications Act of 2005, reads the statement.

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