Recent Zimbabwean press reports indicate that state-backed mobile operator Telecel, already a distant third in the rankings of Zimbabwe’s three mobile network operators, may be on the verge of collapse.
One paper cites an alarming list of failings, including IT problems and staff shortages that have left subscribers unable to recharge airtime or change SIM cards. In particular, Telecel servers have been down since December, affecting mobile money services and airtime and data purchases.
Network availability is now said to have been reduced by 65 percent and the subscriber base has fallen by over a half since 2012 to around one million, although the number of active users may be even less.
Added to this, employees of Telecel Zimbabwe have called for urgent government intervention to rescue the company in a letter written on their behalf by Communication and Allied Services Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe general secretary David Mhambare to Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security minister Jenfan Muswere.
The letter cites company debt, low wages, non-payment of creditors, lack of coverage and subscriber flight among many other concerns. The letter even claims that staff members in some offices are now using competitors’ SIM cards in Telecel offices to help them communicate Telecel business. All this, of course, is happening at a difficult time economically for the entire country, which is a further challenge for Telecel.
The government now has a 60 percent shareholding in Telecel and is said to be in the process of buying the remaining 40 percent, so the company’s workers may get their wish.
Arguably, however, even if the government purchases the entire company, massive investment will be needed just to get the business back on its feet, let alone compete with front runners Econet, which has over two thirds of all subscribers, and NetOne with just under a quarter, leaving Telecel with under 10 percent of subscribers, according to some estimates.