In accordance with prophecy, @MTNza extort money from me.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 2.31.03 PMSo, a couple of months ago, I decided to become a prepaid cellphone customer, after having been a contract customer of MTN’s pretty much since cellphones become a thing in South Africa. At least two friends will vouch for the fact that I said, when plotting my escape from the contract, that MTN would find a way to get an extra month’s subscription out of me. And lo, it has now come to pass.

MTN – I was unsure if I wanted to port or not, and was going to wait to see who had the next phone I wanted before deciding on that. It’s probably fair to say that you’ve made the decision a little easier.

Let’s start with this screencap from their website:

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 2.03.43 PM

So, given that my contract expired on September 8, my email of August 8 requested cancellation, as well as migration to prepaid. As requested, by their website. I know that they got this email, because they replied to it, today, 32 days later, after I had yelled at someone on the phone.


You’d think the email would be enough. But given the cynicism expressed by the prophesy I had made, I also went into an MTN shop that day (August 8, 31 days before expiry). In front of me, I have the fax, sent by the staff there to head office, requesting a move to prepaid. The store clerk said neither the fax, nor my email, were necessary – because things don’t work that way. He said I should just call 808 (customer service) when my contract expired.

I said, that makes no sense. Because when my contract expires, it will roll over to month-to-month on the same terms. So, if I were to call on September 9 (the first day of being out-of-contract), I’d already be committed to another billing cycle. He said, no, you’ll be fine. I said, no, your website says 30 days, and that makes more sense. So please send the faxes.

And then Saturday came, the day before my contract was to expire. So, just to make sure of everything, I called 808. They said they can do nothing for me, and that I should call back on Monday. I said, okay, but that’s a new billing cycle – given that I have emailed a month’s notice, and faxed the same, I take it I won’t be charged for a whole new month? They said, you’ll be fine.

Today, I call at 8am, and request that the cancellation and migration to prepaid take effect. Have you used the airtime and data, I’m asked? Well, I shouldn’t have any – my contract terminates yesterday, and in fact, I shouldn’t be able to call you right now, I guess, seeing as I’m out of contract. “Oh no, sir – you’re now on a new billing cycle, ending October 8. If we convert you to prepaid now, you’ll lose your minutes and data”.

As predicted. And instead of going through this again on October 8, I said cancel, immediately. I know I’ll lose the minutes and the data, and that you have extorted R450-ish from me, thanks to not following the procedures you ask me, your customer, to follow on your website. So, anyone else wanting to leave MTN, be advised that they sometimes seem to keep you hostage when you do. Well played, you got your ransom.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.