There is no such thing as a free gift, or lunch. Or is there?

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If you happen to own a cellphone in South Africa and if you are possibly a customer of either Vodacom or MTN, let me tell you this for free: the codeword this week is “free”.

Evidence of an impending price war among wireless network operators, which enthusiasts have forecast, has all but vanished for now and it seems the country’s two largest operators are instead trying to outdo each other on what they can offer for free.

Yesterday MTN South Africa announced it would partner radio maverick Gareth Cliff, whose CliffCentral.com online radio platform has taken the airwaves by storm, to offer streaming of the show free of data charges for MTN SA customers via WeChat, a global social chat platform.

Cliff, who is best remembered for his loose-lipped breakfast show on 5FM, has transposed his broadcasting skills in a new “unradio” show, Unhinged and uncensored, on Cliff Central.com.

MTN’s announcement came a day after Vodacom published full-page advertisements in the Sunday press urging its customers to buy the papers on May 11 when it would announce a free gift for every Vodacom subscriber “to celebrate 20 years of empowering South Africans”.

At a time when South Africa’s four wireless network operators – Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom Mobile – are competing to see who can offer the lowest voice tariffs, Vodacom and MTN have elevated the stakes by offering something for nothing – or so they claim.

The wireless operators are under pressure to extract similar kinds of profits from data sales that they have realised from voice tariffs – a business they have relied on for 20 years.

Free market economist Milton Friedman was once famously quoted as saying: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” and from the hand of a capitalist bastion there probably is no such thing as a free gift either.

Restaurants

South Africans will be queuing for more than a chance to vote tomorrow as Wimpy, The Fish & Chip Co and hopefully more restaurants offer free stuff such as muffins, coffee and extra fish and chips to the about 25 million electorate who vote.

It is as simple as casting your vote then heading to your nearest Wimpy or The Fish & Chip Co and showing your inked thumb.

Wimpy is giving away free coffee. Logistics should not be a problem as the franchisor once gave away free breakfast on January 19, 2012. The breakfast was announced on Twitter and the franchise managed to serve 68 000 people between 7am and 8 am.

Tomorrow, then, South Africans may not only see long queues in the voting stations but also at these outlets.

The Fish & Chip Co has a voters’ special on a Russian, chips and can of Coke, and another special of two free samoosas for free if you buy mini chips – provided you show your inked thumb.

Meanwhile, Gumtree has compiled a list of top five election items on its website, which includes a red beret with EFF logo at R100 each on orders of over 1 000.

An historical item is original 1994 election ballot papers – with only 45 available.

The most expensive item on the list is Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, signed by the man himself, selling for R15 000.

Other items include poster prints of Mandela speaking at Cape Town City Hall after his release and ANC merchandise, including berets, snapback caps and T-shirts.

Wimpy and The Fish & Chip Co might be the only two brave franchisees which are willing to deal with thousands of South Africans queuing for these specials, but I bet by tomorrow evening more outlets would have let their guard down.

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Asha Speckman and Nompumelelo Magwaza.


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