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Early Warning – South African Telecoms Ripoff

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Whilst trawling on the internet the other day, I came across this article written by Charles Ash and I must admit to thinking “Finally, someone other than me thinks that we are being ripped off”.  It was written some time ago, but is still valid (in my opinion) and so I have copied the complete article here for all to read.

The great South African telecommunications RIPOFF!!

Charles Ash, founder of and marketing manager of has had it with telecoms and SMS ripoffs. He cautions that this information could put BILLIONS of Rands back into the South African economy!

At times like these, I feel like curling up in the corner of the shower and scrubbing my skin for hours until it turns bright red. I feel dirty, used, abused, cheated…betrayed.

I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps the high crime rate in South Africa is having an adverse effect on our corporations as some of the prices we pay for telecommunication services in this country are criminal…nothing more than daylight robbery.

Much is written about South Africa’s unacceptably high instance of rape and rightfully so…but what about the lesser mentioned, government sanctioned “economic rape” of our citizens? “Economic rape”, the kind practised with sickening impunity by so many corporates in South Africa is showing no signs of abating…in fact, it’s spreading.

The petrol price rises, prices across the board rise…the petrol price drops…prices stay fixed. Price fixing scandals abound, the poor suffer while the corporates get off with a feeble slap on the wrist.

Something is deeply wrong with the conduct and insensitivity of corporates in this country. “Economic rape” is such a harsh term, but in the context and manner in which criminally exorbitant prices are thrust on the battered, unsuspecting, undeserving South African public, the term is particularly apt.

What makes the proliferation of high prices in the telecommunications sector so disturbing is the fact that it flies in the face of government’s espoused pro-poor policies. Year after year, under the auspices of the loathsome and repugnant Ivy Matsepe Casaburri (Minister of Communications) and Lyndall Shope-Mafole (Director-General Dept of Communications), government has ensured that the poor and struggling middle classes in South Africa remain thoroughly disenfranchised and excluded from the new digital economy.

While most progressive developing nations in Asia, South America and even North Africa enthusiastically embrace the emancipative potential and power of telecommunications as a social leveler, South Africans continue to labour under the burden of ridiculously high prices, governmental indifference, shoddy service and hollow gestures of pricing relief.

I’ve often thought about what might influence government telecommunication policy makers to conjure up such disastrous policies, then in spite of the outcry and the reliable reports which consistently highlight the abject failure of these policies, government sticks doggedly to its guns, insisting on riding roughshod over the poor rather than backtrack and make the necessary course adjustments.

When the telecommunications industry needed decisive, visionary DIRECTION…it ended up getting misguided ministerial directives. But what influences or informs government’s stubborn adherence to its patently disastrous telecommunications policies? I’ve considered this question for some time and contrary to popular, reductionist opinion, I think it goes far deeper than government merely maintaining the status quo in order to cash-in handsomely through its equity in Telkom and Vodacom.

After witnessing the Obama election and realising how effectively Obama was able to re-engineer public sentiment through astute usage of the internet and new media, it dawned on me that lethargic governments around the world should rightfully fear the Internet.

Unlike the SABC, the internet cannot be censored, it cannot be co-opted or coerced into presenting a sanitised, one-sided view which serves your narrow interests. The Internet is a place where ideas spread like wildfire, minds get infected with idea viruses and information is shared at the speed of light.

It stands to reason then that lethargic governments would at the very least try their utmost to prevent the mass proliferation of this technological beast for as long as possible while they consolidate their stranglehold on the masses, prey on the ill-informed, mould the malleable and ingratiate themselves to the vulnerable.

Knowledge is power, so when you’re denied access to the most powerful information repository in the history of mankind, it makes you a weak and easy target. You don’t have the means to properly interrogate the facts or expose yourself to alternate, dissident views…you’re just what the politicians love…voting fodder. Well, that’s my theory anyway.

On the issue of telecoms pricing, there are four areas of profiteering in the telecommunications sector which I would like to speak out on lest my silence on these matters make me complicit in their continuation.

1.    SMS for Mobile Content aka “SMS RIPOFF to $%#&@ and get RIPPED OFF”
There’s not much in this world that riles me more than seeing adverts on TV for SMS content…like “SMS FAIL to &%*#$” and get a picture sent to your phone or even more disturbingly, SMS LOVE…or SMS TONE. The cost of these text messages are in the region of R5 each; some are R10, some are even R30 and worse still, most are subscription based. With most new phones sporting high resolution screens; gigs of storage space; sound systems like ghetto blasters from the 80’s/early 90’s and 3G/HSDPA connectivity capabilities, it’s no surprise that service providers are lining up to put these feature to full use. What makes the mobile content industry so particularly reprehensible is that it preys on the poor and the poorly informed.

For starters, your phone needs to be WAP enabled in order to download mobile content. Now, if your phone is WAP enabled and you’re still paying for mobile content, then you need to have your head checked. Simply bookmark on your phone’s browser, visit Uncle Google, type “Free Mobile Content” and BOOYAKASHA!! All the free mobile content your salivating phone can eat. Alternately, you could visit a personal favourite of mine ( and access vast repositories of free mobile content from games to pictures to tunes. DISCLAIMER – I have no responsibility whatsoever…particularly if some of the content you access is copyrighted or adult in nature.

Not happy with that? Or your phone’s browser is not giving you the sublime experience you’d like, simply head over to and install Opera Mini on your phone. Opera Mini is a phone browser that actively customises websites on the fly in order that they can fit on your phone’s screen, effectively allowing you to visit just about any website on the Internet. This way, if you’re feeling particularly amorous and romantic, save yourself the R5/love poem you’re currently expected to pay and head over to Google…type “SMS love poems” and VOILA ROMEO…all the love poems your phone can ingest…FREE!!

This segment would not be complete without a simple calculation to illustrate what most average Joes’ and Joelenes’ might not be aware of. Considering that all network operators except Virgin (ie. Vodacom, Cell C, MTN) all charge a staggering R2/MB of data, when you SMS I-AM-A-FOOL to &%$*# and instantly shed R10 for the displeasure of gaining access to that ostensibly hilarious 4MB video clip you’re after, keep in mind that @ R2/MB, the download will cost you a further R2 x 4MB = R8. The total cost of this exercise in subliminal corporate fleecing is R10 + R8 = R18…guess they hid that in the nanoscopic fine-print right? Mobile content probably only makes sense if everybody has a Blackberry as you get unlimited data access with these bad boys.

To add insult to injury, the network providers are now all in on the great social ripoff currently underway. By accessing content services from the network provider’s lacklustre mobile portals, like; Juiced or Vodafonelive, the data charges (the R2/MB) are waived (something to do with walled-garden services yadda-yadda). Now, if I was a mobile content service provider, I’d be suing the pants off of the networks for such brazen anti-competitive practises…but that’s another story… Anti-competitiveness IS the name of the game in South Africa.