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Mobile and In Touch – Communication in South Africa

by Annique Bolliger


Are you looking for a SA cellular network provider, but you’re not sure which one is the best for you? In this article, Kate informs you how to keep in touch efficiently and where to find the best prepaid cellular and mobile Internet deals.  

Since being a student presents us with enough challenges, I want to set your mind at ease for when it comes to figuring out the best option for mobile communication. Students need to keep in touch with the world and at the same time stick to a student-friendly but also realistic budget for communication.

For the sake of student budgets, I am focusing on current prepaid options (deals change all the time), as this tends to be more affordable for students who need to finance their own cellphone costs, and also because the attraction to phone contracts depend largely on the kind of phone an individual is interested in!

Pick Your Best Bet

In order for you to be sure about which network you decide to go for, you will need to know what some of their charges are. It is always good to have your research behind you before you make any decisions.

Below is a list of cool prepaid deals that I’ve handpicked from four of our big networks. Find out what they charge us to maintain a virtual social life and cellphone connectivity.


Average Prepaid Rates

  • Phone calls: 29c p/m (Telkom to Telkom) and 75c p/m (Telkom to other)
  • SMS/MMS: 29c per SMS/MMS
  • 1MB data: 29c
  • Smallest Telkom once-off data bundle: 500MB (R 14.50)

For more info check out the Telkom website.

Cell C

Average Prepaid Rates

  • Phone calls: R1.50 p/m (Cell C to any network)
  • SMS/MMS: 50c per SMS/MMS
  • 1MB of data: 79c (out of a data bundle) and 15c per MB (with data bundle is purchased)
  • Smallest Cell C once-off data bundle: 24MB (R 6)

For more information on Cell C, take a browse on their website.


Average Prepaid Rates

  • Phone calls: R1.80 p/m (Vodacom to any network)
  • SMS/MMS: 50c per SMS/MMS
  • 1MB of data: R2.00 (out of a data bundle) and R1.75 per MB (with data bundle is purchased)
  • Smallest Vodacom once-off data bundle: 30MB (R12)

For more information, browse their site.

FYI: With Vodacom it is possible to hire their devices and SIM cards at the airport store if you are a visitor to SA.


Average Prepaid Rates

  • Phone calls: 79c per minute
  • SMS/MMS: 50c per SMS/MMS
  • 1MB of data: 79c
  • Smallest MTN once-off data bundle: 20MB (R12)

Find out more about MTN on their website.

Me and You Time

This is a newer SIM-only network and only has pre-paid offers. The benefit of Me and You Time is that your commitment is month-to-month and you can either upgrade or downgrade whenever you like.

  • Structure your own plan for calls/SMS/data on a monthly basis
  • Cool Launch Deal: if you make a lot of phone calls, check out Unlimited Talk! It gives you unlimited calls to any SA network for R300 p/m (SMS and data not included in price)
  • Smallest Me and You Time once-off data bundle: 100MB (R25)

Find out more about Me and You Time on their website.

Wi-Fi – A Student’s Best Friend

  • Free Wi-Fi

Although Wi-Fi in SA is not quite as accessible and inexpensive as it is in other countries around the world, there are various hotspots around.

There are ‘Free Wi-Fi’ signs on the doors to different places and you just need to be sure to keep your eyes peeled. In general, you would need to ask one of the staff members for the Wi-Fi password in order to log onto the host network.

  • Wi-Fi Applications

Some places make use of applications such as Always On, which offers 30 or 60 minutes of free Wi-Fi depending on the company’s subscription to the App.  All you have to do is register on the app on your device and you will be able to use up the free minutes or purchase more access, as you need to.

Another example is Telkom’s 2500 different hotspots located all over South Africa. The bonus:  it is not limited to Telkom users, but is available to anyone. Check out more about this on their website.

  • Routers and Dongles

Most mobile networks, among other retailers, will sell routers costing anywhere between around R400 and 900, and that’s without Internet connectivity.  To be more independent with Wi-Fi, it might be worth your while to purchase a dongle on prepaid or on a contract. The benefit of this is that you would have Wi-Fi access wherever you go as long as your device is loaded with data you purchase.

Pre-paid Vs. Contract

Contract Pros

  • There are usually great Wi-Fi deals with contracts and data will cost less.
  • You never have to worry about topping up your data or airtime because it comes through each month directly onto your SIM card.
  • Your cellphone or device is included in your monthly rate, so you do not have to purchase the device you want upfront, you can pay it off throughout the contract.

Contract Cons

  • There is no going back. Once you have signed a two-year contract with a network you are tied down to paying that amount each month.
  • There is a clause in the contracts, which states that they can increase the monthly amounts at any time. Although they only do this every few years it can come up somewhere along the lines in your contract and before you know it you’re paying R20 extra. This recently happened with Vodacom.
  • The tariffs are more expensive on a contract than on pre-paid

Prepaid Pros

  • You can budget and pay for airtime and data as you need to, as opposed to a set amount each month. It is easier to spend less on airtime and data because you are not bound by pre-paid.
  • You can buy airtime and data anywhere you find a store in South Africa. Stores such as retailers/shopping malls, grocery stores, petrol stations, kiosks and mobile data stores will have airtime available to purchase.
  • The tariffs are less expensive than a contract.

Prepaid Cons

  • You would have to purchase airtime each month or as often as you need – so if you run out, you can’t communicate with your phone until you recharge (or until you find a Wi-Fi connection and make use of certain Apps)

The RICA Story

South Africa has some funky little laws, like the one we call RICA. It’s a bit like load shedding (that great moment when Eskom’s disco lights kick in) – but just for purchasing a SIM card.

RICA or the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act started in 2011 due to criminal activity on communications networks, mobile networks, email and so on.

RICA was established to protect the consumer and mobile networks from exposure to hackers.  So these days, whenever you purchase a SIM card in South Africa you will need to register the number in your name. This RICA process applies to all mobile networks in the country. Unfortunately there is no escaping the administrative monster here…

To check this out further, follow this link.

  • Where and How to Rica Your SIM Card

You can RICA your SIM card at any of the mobile stores upon purchase, as well in certain grocery stores like Checkers. If you buy your starter pack from a separate retailer, be sure to RICA the SIM card at the specific network name.

  • Required Documents

For SA citizens:

  • valid South African ID
  • 3 months bank statement
  • proof of residence (utility bill or a copy of your current lease agreement)

For non-SA citizens and visitors:

It is possible for visitors to purchase a South African SIM card from any mobile network as long as it is pre-paid. You will need:

  • valid passport
  • proof of residence (utility bill or a copy of your current lease agreement)

My General Tips:

  • Find out who you need to contact the most, see what network they are using and what plan they are using. It is generally cheaper to be in contact with people who are on the same network as you are.
  • Ask your friends and family members which network they have chosen and why. Find out what works for them, and if this might be an option for you.
  • Before you choose to purchase a router or a Wi-Fi dongle from any one of the stores, be sure the devices are compatible with your laptop make.
  • For international calls, Skype is a very popular application! As long as you have Wi-Fi, you don’t pay anything. Click here to download Skype. For iPhone users, a similar option is FaceTime, which is already installed on the device.
  • USE INSTANT MESSAGING! Because communication tariffs in South Africa are quite expensive, you want to use Wi-Fi as much as you can. Whatsapp, like most instant messaging Apps, is a super convenient way to stay in touch and communicate via texts, rather than sending numerous SMSs every day. And even without Wi-Fi access, it’s cheaper to communicate using data bundles as opposed to airtime. To get Whatsapp, click here.

Tips For Visitors and International Students:

  • If you are coming to South Africa for longer than just a short visit, getting a SA phone number will work out much cheaper for you than international roaming will!
  • You cannot purchase a mobile contract in South Africa if you are not a permanent resident, so find out about prepaid options.
  • International calling and messaging rates differ between networks and locations, as well as where you’re calling to. Find out from your chosen network what their international rates are.
  • Check out what the listed mobile networks have on offer at their airport stores. They often have a visitor-specific focus, offering specials on data bundles and airtime packages.
  • Vodacom’s B4IGO Travel allows you to order a South African SIM and number before you even arrive in the country! Have a look at this super option.

EduConnect 2cents

It is important that you are content with your connection to the world whether you live in SA or are just visiting. Above all, you want to be able to rely on your service provider! Ensure that you belong to a trustworthy mobile network. So when you pick one, take time to weigh up your options and find what fits best with your budget and general cellular communication needs and preferences.


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