Welcome to sunny South Africa. If you haven’t done your homework properly before embarking on your wanderlust to the southernmost country in Africa, you are in for a surprise. Especially when it is time to get connected. Why? Because the process of getting a SIM card at any outlet in South Africa is different than in other countries.

Let me break it down for you.

Everyone in South Africa, be it citizen or visitor, is subject to the country’s RICA laws. The Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act of 2002 is a law that regulates the interception of communications and associated processes such as applications for and authorization of interception communications. In a nutshell, it enables the authorities to intercept your communications, should it be deemed as possibly infringing on the rights of safety of others within the country.

The law has been described as necessary because of the sophisticated ways in which organized crime was evolving, by use of mobile technology, email and other computer related technologies.

In order to activate a SIM card on any of our local networks, one needs to present his or her ID or passport, as well as a proof of residence. Said proof of residence could be the address where the person usually resides. Where such a residential address is not available a person could use the address where he is employed or the address where his or her business is situated.

I contacted a few of the mobile network providers in South Africa to find out how a SIM can be obtained, and set up the following scenario: My good friend, who will be traveling from Europe to South Africa in two weeks time, needs a SIM card. He will be staying at various backpackers lodges and I will only see him two weeks after arriving. His stay will be for six weeks.

Confused Call Center Agents Holding Two Phones One White And One Black
Spoiler alert…

First up, a call to Telkom Mobile. An agent answers after five minutes on hold, places me on hold again for about 40 seconds after asking her what my friend’s options would be, returns and says that because he will be staying at a backpackers lodge and not a fixed address, he would be unable to register a SIM with Telkom Mobile. The call center agent then insisted the best option would be for me to register the SIM in my own name and just give it to him to use. Even after stressing the fact that I will only see him two weeks after arriving in South Africa. This solution is impractical and so I thank the lady for her time and hang up.

My following call was to Cell C. In less than a minute my call was answered, which really impressed me. The impression didn’t last really long as the consultant told me exactly the same thing: I should RICA the SIM card and wait until I get to see my friend before he could be connected. She had an alternative solution though, although it was way worse than the initial one. She told me I should tell him to approach people on the street who sells SIM cards that were already active, meaning that he should buy a SIM card that was activated using a stranger’s credentials. Next.

During my next call the consultant once again failed to take into account the fact that I won’t be seeing my friend for the first two weeks after his arrival. This time it was Vodacom. She also suggested that I provide my credentials to register the SIM with.

Last call to make, with no hope of anything that will resemble any sort of help, went to MTN. No surprises, more of the same. Again I was told to register the SIM card with my details for him to use.

All of these responses begs the question: If the mobile network operators’ own employees are uncertain about the RICA requirements how effective is it really? Anything brought into law should be clearly defined. Is it not? Or is just that our mobile operators don’t have knowledgeable agents in their call centers? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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