By Shameel Joosub
Regardless of race, culture or status, people around the world are suffering in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hardships range from the most debilitating - such as hunger and homelessness - to crippling psychological effects such as fear, loneliness and anxiety. Despite this new reality, all around us we see the very best of humanity coming to the fore. From simple acts of neighbourly kindness to extraordinary corporate and health innovations; in societies across the world we are witnessing more care than indifference, more steadfastness than despair.
We are also each called upon as individuals to contribute to relief efforts, wherever possible. This includes South Africa’s Solidarity Fund, to which I am personally proud to make a contribution over the coming months. I would like to appeal to all fellow South Africans who are fortunate enough to be able to assist in the fight against the pandemic, to do so in whatever way they can.
Naturally, with people now increasingly physically isolated in various state lockdowns, mobile and fixed networks become even more critical to keep societies functioning. Vodacom's numerous teams in countries across the African continent are working hard and in testing conditions - during these unprecedented times - in order to keep communities, businesses and governments connected. We are also seeing the development of some exciting innovations which harness the power of technology to help fight the virus.
Maintaining Network service quality
Vodacom’s operations in South Africa, Tanzania, Lesotho, the DRC and Mozambique have all recently experienced extraordinary growth in network traffic. We have undertaken various measures to ensure that our network quality across the continent will not be compromised in the coming months. In South Africa, Vodacom will spend over R500 million within the space of two months to add network capacity during the national emergency lockdown period, to ensure customers continue to enjoy a seamless experience as more people work from home and use online platforms for schooling their children and for entertainment. Both Vodacom Tanzania and the DRC are prioritising network optimisation for areas that need improvement as well as network resilience. In Lesotho, equipment is being purchased to increase capacity in identified hotspots and, in Mozambique, plans have been initiated to provide additional support to all critical sites.
Support services for e-Learning
With many children unable to attend school in person, e-Learning becomes even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vodacom e-School in South Africa, a free curriculum-aligned service for subscribers, has seen user registrations on the platform increase to over 1 million. In March alone, we saw over 100 000 new registrations, a four-fold increase in the number of new registrations on the platform compared with February. In addition to providing special bundles to universities so that students can access e-learning platforms, we have expanded our zero-rated offering to all public schools, universities and T-Vet colleges across the country to ensure that students enrolled into these institutions will be able to access relevant information for free via these portals.
Vodacom Tanzania continues to promote its free education platform for students and Vodacom DRC offers VodaEduc, a zero-rated learning platform. Vodacom Mozambique is working on providing free internet for the government’s e-learning portal and free access to university portals with the Minister of Science and Technology. Finally, Vodacom Lesotho is providing free data access to 101 schools, with plans to connect an additional 59 schools by July 2020.
Providing support to African governments
There have been various initiatives across our operations to support African governments in combating the spread of the virus. Some of these examples include:
Supporting Small and Micro Businesses
It is critical that small and micro businesses across the continent remain supported during the pandemic. In South Africa, Vodacom is extending loans to SMEs to assist them with cash flow challenges. Vodacom Tanzania is currently assessing the risk of SMEs shutting down, and a payment plan will be put in place for customers who need support. In the DRC, additional data allocations have been provided to SMEs and work from home services have been extended to all Vodacom enterprise customers in the region. Vodacom Mozambique is looking to introduce special work at home packages for SMEs. Vodacom Lesotho has identified vulnerable sectors for special assistance and is also considering providing a combination of payment holidays or discounts to SMEs over a four month period.
Maintaining M-PESA platform, enabling cashless payments and financial services
Vodacom’s operations in Lesotho, Mozambique, DRC and Tanzania have introduced various changes to make it easier to use the M-PESA service during state lockdowns. These include increasing daily wallet limits, waiving some of the P2P fees and merchant payments fees paid by customer, reducing transaction fees and promoting the use of M-PESA over in-shop purchases to limit interactions between people and curb the spread of the virus. As an example, Vodacom Lesotho has implemented zero fees for merchant transactions up to the value of M50.
Vodacom: supporting you through this crisis
Vodacom is proud of the various innovations and public private partnerships which pool the best talent and technology to find new ways to flatten the curve of the virus. As a leading African telco, we have a clear duty as part of our social contract to provide access to essential services to as many people as possible. We remain determined to keep the continent confidently connected during the coming months as we make every effort to offer support to our customers and staff during this once in a lifetime event.
Vodacom South Africa has already experienced a notable increase in fixed and mobile traffic during the lockdown. Maintaining our network service quality remains our top priority and we will continue to increase our network investment spend to manage the extraordinary traffic increases in the short term. We will continue to do everything in our power to support all governments throughout our African operations in whatever way we can.