• In April, the communications regulator took the number 111 to serve as a Covid-19 emergency hotline.
  • Except the number has long been used by Vodacom as a customer care helpline.
  • The result was that Covid-19 emergency call-centres "were inundated with calls made by Vodacom customers".
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Government was left red-faced after snatching Vodacom’s 111 helpline to serve as a coronavirus emergency number.

In April, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) announced in the government gazette that the number “111” would now be for the sole use of “Covid-19 national emergency services”. Helpfully, it also said that the number would be toll-free to access.

The announcement did not allow for a consultation period, or allow anyone to lodge any complaints. According to the original announcement, 111 would now be used for Covid-19 emergencies until three months after the end of the State of Disaster.

However, it seems as if Icasa did not realise the number was already being used by Vodacom as a helpline. And, since there was no waiting period, Vodacom couldn’t lodge any objections.

According Icasa’s own wording in the government gazette, the result was that, for three months, “Covid-19 health communications centres were inundated with calls made by Vodacom customers”.

Instead of responding to Covid-19 emergencies, the National Department of Health, which runs the call centres, was forced to respond to Vodacom customers presumably wanting to check their balance, or when they would be eligible for an upgrade.

Consequently, the National Department of Health advised Icasa that it would like the number changed.

So Icasa just announced in the government gazette that it  had reviewed and withdrawn the “111” short code as a Covid-19 emergency services code”. It is now considering the following numbers: 103, 104, 105, 106, 118, and 139.

Icasa has also opted to allow seven days for mobile operators and the public to lodge any objections.


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