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Sabotage by 'in-house thugs' hits Telkom customers

Thousands of people across SA face being without landlines and the internet following a spate of sabotage acts on Telkom facilities. 

About 13 200 Telkom customers and businesses have been affected by acts of sabotage against the company’s facilities.

Eighty-five street distribution cabinets have been damaged in the past five days, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo, but also in Gauteng towards the end of the week.

Jacqui O’Sullivan, Telkom's managing executive of communication, condemned the incidents as examples of “ongoing acts of intimidation by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) with the spike in sabotage related to the past three weeks of industrial action”.

“These are not random acts of vandalism or incidents of cable theft. These people know where to go and what to do to wreak maximum damage. This is in-house,” O’Sullivan said.

“This thuggish behaviour has now had a significant impact on many residential and business customers. We are particularly concerned about businesses who rely on us to make a living,” she said.

When caught, the perpetrators would face the full might of the law.

She cited a case in Boksburg, in February, when a copper thief, Paul Mathonsi, also known as Sambol Sambane Nyalunga, was sentenced to 106 years in jail in terms of the Criminal Matters Amendment Act.

This act allows for harsher sentencing and bail conditions for people who are found to have purposefully damaged infrastructure.

“Copper cable theft and the damage to infrastructure is costing Telkom, along with many other companies, millions of rand each year in repairs, lost working hours and lost customers.

“We are encouraged that the magistrate recognised this impact by handing down such a heavy sentence,” O’Sullivan said.

The 106-year concurrent sentence was handed down as an effective 25 years.

While the sabotage continued, she said, the protesters were also committing violent acts against non-striking members with a CWU protester throwing a brick at the car window of one of the non-striking employees as the employee was leaving a Telkom facility in Randburg.

The protester was arrested.

On Thursday, in the Western Cape, a number of non-striking technicians were sent threatening texts in an attempt to get them to join the strike.

On Friday, Telkom took out a contempt of court order against eight of the 870 striking union members for defying last Monday’s urgent interdict by the Labour Court prohibiting the CWU and its members from blockading Telkom entrances and exits, intimidating working employees and damaging any Telkom facilities and equipment.

Telkom is seeking prosecution of those CWU members who defied the court order, said O’Sullivan.

Telkom was strictly applying the no-work-no-pay rule to all striking employees in line with the requirements of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, she said.

“We would like to apologise to all our customers for the inconvenience caused by this sabotage and assure our customers that we are working around the clock to get the repairs done,” she said.

Telkom and the CWU will meet again this afternoon. One of the main issues is that across the board, increases have been standard at Telkom for years. The company says this has done nothing to improve its customer service.It has now introduced performance-related pay which determines increases.

“We remain firm in our decision to implement an incentive programme that will reward employees each month for delivering superior customer service and improved productivity,” she said.

Last week, Telkom announced a R500 000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the saboteurs.

Telkom has asked that any person with information related to these crimes contact the Telkom crime reporting line at 0800 124 000.

Thami Mzileni, KwaZulu-Natal's secretary for the CWU, denied that the workers were involved in the acts of sabotage.

“Many other people have access to Telkom facilities. We are peacefully protesting 50m away from all Telkom premises in line with the court order,” he said.

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