Three telecommunications network infrastructure towers were burnt and destroyed within a matter of hours in KwaZulu-Natal this week — seemingly sparked by the spread of false information related to Covid-19 and 5G.
The towers, belonging to telecom providers Vodacom and MTN, were burnt in the Durban area between Tuesday and Wednesday.
This is according to communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who described the attacks as a threat to investments made to develop vital telecoms network infrastructure.
“It is regrettable that the much-needed network infrastructure is being destroyed. The country 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,” she said.
Ndabeni-Abrahams condemned the destruction, and called on law enforcement agencies to apprehend those responsible.
Though the motive behind the attacks was unclear, Ndabeni-Abrahams said they may have been sparked by the spread of false information related to Covid-19.
“The burning of the cellphone towers follows a resurgence in conspiracy theories which link the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic to 5G. The destruction of network towers compromises multipronged efforts and initiatives to stem the spread of the virus.
“We urge the police to arrest anyone who is threatening to remove infrastructure network stations or towers,” she said.
The department said there had been several social media campaigns linking 5G networks to the outbreak of Covid-19, even though this has been dispelled by the World Health Organisation.
Those spreading false information could be charged, the department warned.
“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.”
Ndabeni-Abrahams added that the department was finalising a draft policy for the rollout of 5G networks. The process was expected to be subjected to public consultation as required by the Electronic Communications Act.
Meanwhile, controversial business forum Delangokubona has dismissed “malicious” allegations that it is behind the burning of 5G towers in KZN.
In a voice message widely circulated on social media, a man alleges that the forum, working with a group of taxi drivers, was behind the burning of the towers.
“We state categorically clear that we view such claims as being foolish and attention-seeking. We call upon all members of our society to use social media platforms in an ethical and responsible manner that does not seek to peddle misinformation,” said the forum’s leader Nathi Mnyandu.
“Our forum is a legitimate entity with a constitution which outlines both our organogram and procedures of taking decisions. We can declare for South Africa to know that we have not taken such a resolution and cannot be associated with such activities.”
The forum said it could not be associated with the attacks because of the vital role 5G has during the time of the pandemic.
Mnyandu called on those accusing the forum of wrongdoing to come forward and prove their claims.
eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda condemned the vandalism.
In a statement, the municipality said three cellphone towers were burnt down — in Umlazi, KwaMashu and Ntuzuma townships — as communities claimed that they were installed without their consultation.
“I want to appeal to our people that they should not allow themselves to be mobilised to be part an agenda that seeks to cause disruption when our country is facing a difficult period of battling the deadly coronavirus pandemic,” he said.