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How riots have disrupted connectivity across South Africa

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South Africa is experiencing its largest mass unrest since the end of apartheid, resulting thus far in the death of at least 117 people and over 3,000 arrests. On Thursday, the South African government announced it will deploy 25,000 troops to quell the violence.

The uprisings, in response to the incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma, have included hundreds of recorded instances of looting and vandalism – including the targeting of mobile towers and communications facilities, disrupting connectivity at a time when residents are desperately seeking accurate information and ways to stay safe.

Here's a rundown of how the unrest has impacted connectivity for South Africans:

  • Rioters destroyed over 113 mobile network towers across the province of KwaZulu-Natal, according to Bloomberg, resulting in the deployment of private security contractors to guard key facilities. On Tuesday, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) issued a statement condemning the violence, which it said has "resulted in the disruption of communication services, closure of some community radio stations and vandalism of network facilities." Further, it warned: "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." ICASA Chairperson Dr. Keabetswe Modimoeng also called upon communities to "assist in guarding and protecting this critical infrastructure," adding that "any disruption of communication services could prove disastrous and result in increased mortality, as emergency calls may be directly impacted."

  • In addition to towers, telecommunications outlets including a Cell C storefront are amongst the hundreds of retail stores that have been vandalized. The violence led mobile providers including MTN, Telkom and Vodacom to issue statements announcing store closures and altered operating hours.

  • With hundreds of stores and malls being looted, threatening public safety along with food supply, online retail is being strained as well at a time when it's sorely needed by a population on lockdown. ITWeb reports that online delivery services including Game, Makro, UberEats and OneDayOnly have been "severely impacted" and are experiencing major backlogs. The biggest service impacts are occurring in areas "where routes are inaccessible or unsafe," Brian Leroni, senior VP of corporate affairs at consumer goods distributor Massmart, told ITWeb.

  • PolicyLab – a web app developer for researchers and policymakers – launched a website this week called the Unrest Map to help South Africans keep track of where violence is occurring in real time. The map tracks live updates, using interactive icons for Looting, Arson and Other Unrest as plot points that users can click into for further information and news sourcing. In red type up top, Unrest Map also contains this disclaimer: "Please note that due to very high user volumes, some users may experience errors while the app loads. If you cannot connect, please try this alternative link:"

    (Source: Unrest Map)
    (Source: Unrest Map)

— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor and host of "The Divide" and "What's the Story?" Light Reading

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