Some Batswana have criticised the frequent SMS-based competitions mostly run by mobile network service providers saying they are a rip-off, and are often ill-timed. They fear that their highly charged enticements that can often lead to addiction are tantamount to gambling. Mobile network operators have been seen to be among the biggest offenders as far as enticing people to spend on their products, especially during special periods like the festive season. “The SMSes are a torture. They can even send it at two in the morning, disturbing our peaceful sleep,” said one concerned citizen.
A rough survey conducted by this publication this week not only revealed that people were getting tired of receiving SMS after SMS inviting them to partake in a competition of some sort but that most had totally lost hope and do not trust that anything ever comes out of it. “Does anyone ever win these competitions?” asked Alpha Masekamela, a student who doubles up as a vendor at the Gaborone bus rank during School holidays. Masekamela told of how at one point she had so much faith in these competitions that she saved up and bought airtime solely to gamble her way to a win. Because she had bought so much airtime to participate, Masekamela said she was sure that she was going to win, that she even drafted a business plan.
“I had planned to open up a small business with the money that I had anticipated to win unfortunately nothing came out of it,” she said. Masekamela said she has since stopped participating in any of the competition and now works hard for whatever she wants. The 22-year-old student, however, is not alone in this kind of thinking. A combi driver at the Gaborone Bus rank says he does not want anything to do with the competitions and if there was anything he could do to stop the mobile network operators from sending him SMSes he would do it immediately. He said he sees the competitions as a money making scheme for mobile network operators that nothing ever comes out of.
His colleague Tirelo Magibizela confesses to often partaking in SMS-based competitions now and then. He explains that he often does that when he is bored and usually does not even bother to check how much it costs per SMS. “Maybe it’s because I always have airtime in my phone,” he said. Another Gaborone resident, who this publication spoke to, expressed disdain at the whole concept, especially that they do not have control to stop mobile operators from sending them these SMSes. “They entice us into playing their silly games by sending us promotional SMSes even late at night,” he said. Most people, even those who did not have issues with mobile network operators running such competition, have indicated that it would have been better if one was given a chance of whether to receive such SMS competition alerts on their phone or not.
Contacted for comment one of the mobile network providers Mascom stated that as a Mobile Network Service Provider its marketing strategy includes the use of promotional messages to promote products and services. These, they say, are meant to get across important and relevant messages to their client base about a service or product they are currently promoting. “These useful platforms are not only for promotional purposes but to also inform our customers about matters that are of national interest like disaster awareness, geographical, health etc. Our customers get first-hand information on matters that could be life - saving through the use of the Short Message Service (SMS),” said Mascom Communications and Public Relations Manager Barbara Gotlop.
According to Gotlop, their position on this service is that of dispensing timely and useful information that is meant to inform and promote relevant products and services to client base. When asked whether they are aware that some of these promotions are classified as gambling and what measures they are taking to protect their clients, Gotlop said as a responsible corporate citizen, Mascom pays careful attention to the rules and regulations stipulated by the Competition and Gambling Act of Botswana to ensure that none of their promotions contravene any acts set by the regulator or any other concerned body.
Meanwhile when contacted for comment , the Botswana Gambling Authority, which started operations early this year, stated that “The Gambling Authority has not yet begun to Regulate the Gambling industry as we are still awaiting the approval of our regulations”. They instead referred this publication to the Public Relations unit of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA), which is a crucial stakeholder in this matter as they license mobile network service providers, could not be reached at the time of going to print.