MTN gets free advertising on satellite dishes in informal settlements

The cellphone company claims that it did not pay residents for branding while residents said they were asked to choose between a R100 airtime voucher or electricity. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Data in South Africa is the most expensive in the world and cellphone companies are making super-profits from it, but MTN still uses the plight of informal settlement residents to get free advertising.

In the past few months, it has been difficult not to notice the yellow satellite dishes perched on the shanty roofs as one travels on the N2 in Cape Town between Gugulethu and Nyanga. It would appear that there is a new player entering into new territory of pay-TV.

That new player is in fact an old one. When Elitsha went to investigate, it turned out that the mobile operator, MTN, has been approaching communities along the N2 and N7 near Dunoon to advertise on their dishes.

“Residents are approached to see if they are willing to allow the painting of their dishes and, if necessary, repairs are made to the dish, where the dish is rusted and in need of maintenance,” said MTN executive for corporate affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan.

In 2016, Elitsha reported that the residents of the informal settlement near Borcherds Quarry were enjoying pay-TV because it not only helps to update them on international entertainment but also prevents their children from loitering after school, especially during the winter school holidays, keeping them indoors.

The areas of Europe, Barcelona and Nkanini are densely populated and always hit hard by winter floods as well as shack fires that sometimes result in deaths. The closest sports ground are is in Nyanga and the only form of entertainment that residents have is alcohol at shebeens. There are 660 high mast lights by the City of Cape Town’s count, and according to councillor, Phindile Maxiti, a mayoral committee member for Energy and Climate Change, 5 of these are in Barcelona and Europe.

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Busiwe Matyeli (39), an unemployed Europe resident, bemoans that there are no recreational facilities. She confirmed that an MTN representative approached her to repair her rusted satellite dish and offered her a choice between a R100 airtime or an electricity voucher; she chose electricity.

Luthando Gqalangile (44) who lives a few doors from Matyeli, also had his satellite dish repaired by MTN and was offered an R100 electricity voucher. His children, ages 16, 14 and 9 years of age, love watching DSTV; their favourite programmes are the soapies and his youngest loves watching cartoons. He pays a monthly fee of R265 for the family package that DSTV has on offer.

Andile Mafu, a resident in the area, also confirmed receiving a R100 voucher and how an MTN representative repaired his rusted DSTV satellite dish.

MTN spokesperson Mthokozisi Ndlovu, disputed that payments were made to residents.

City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, Councillor Malusi Booi, could not say when access to services like communal taps in the informal settlements will improve. “In general, these upgrades are taking place constantly. The nature, timing, scope, scale and proposals of the upgrade efforts are dependent on the type of settlement and the community dynamics,” said Booi.

He further stated that “upgrades are varied and catered to the specific requirements and possibilities of an informal settlement”.

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