Running rings round RICA


Illegal immigrants in Mpumalanga’s capital of Mbombela are turning to South African citizens who let them use their registered SIM cards to keep in touch with their families. Hundreds of these foreign nationals, especially Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, were cut off since July 1 in terms of Section 40 of the Regulation of Interception of Communication Act (RICA).

African Eye News Service spoke to a few of them, who revealed that they pay South African citizens to buy starter packs on their behalf and register the SIM cards using their own identities, thestate BuaNews agency reports.

Mozambican hairdresser Jeddah Mongwe said she paid a woman R100 to register a new SIM card that she could use to contact her family. “I have been in the country for almost 10 years but I don’t have legal documents. I left my kids with my aunt back home so I had to pay someone to help me reconnect with my family,” said Mongwe. Mongwe said the woman who registered the SIM on her behalf didn’t care what she wanted to use it for. “She was just happy to be paid the R100,” she said.

Zimbabwean vendor Joas Ndhlovu said his business was negatively affected as he needed a cellphone so his customers could call him and place orders. “My SIM card was cut off because I did not have a passport and could not comply with RICA. My friend used his documents and I paid him R150 in return because he trusts me,” said Ndhlovu.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Andries Nel, has warned those who break the RICA provisions. “People practising this commit an offence and can and will be prosecuted. They undermine the legislation and jeopardise its aims and objectives. The SIM cards in question can be traced back to them and they will have to face the consequences of their actions,” warned Nel in a statement. RICA came into effect in July 2009 and the compliance deadline was June 30, 2011.
“As government, we urge all members of our communities who know of any contraventions of RICA to come forward and report such cases to the South African Police Service or any of the Mobile Cellular Operators (MCOs),” said Nel. BuaNews notes more than 95% of SIM cards have been registered in terms of RICA. Cell C registered 99.9% of its contracts and 97% of prepaid subscribers. MTN followed with 99.5% of contracts and 97% of prepared subscribers, while Vodacom registered 98.98% of its contracts and 95.12% of prepaid subscribers.

Although the original Act was passed in 2002, the section for the registration of SIM cards was inserted in 2007, with the intention that registration begin in June 2009 and ends within 18 months.

The Parliamentary hearings in 2006 were controversial, with some heated debates taking place between legislators, cellular network operators and law enforcement agencies. The network operators complained about the cost and the impact on the industry, while the law enforcement agencies emphasised mobile phones were a prime instrument for criminal activity. The police say criminals often use mobile phones to plan and coordinate criminal activity but at the Parliamentary hearings on the matter police and justice department officials contradicted each other on the expected effectiveness of the registration and the need to record all the required data.