If you don’t use a SIM card or recharge it with airtime or data every few months, there is a good chance your mobile network will disconnect you and recycle your number.
This is because there is a limited quantity of cellphone numbers available, making it necessary for operators to use what is available as efficiently as possible.
The various networks have different rules for recycling numbers, with Vodacom offering the longest dormancy period – 185 days.
Cell C, MTN, and Telkom give you a 90-day window, after which you lose your number.
It must be noted that these rules only apply to prepaid SIMs. If you are on contract, your number is safe until the contract expires.

Taken offline

A MyBroadband reader recently felt the effect of the SIM-recycle policy, after he said a SIM loaded with a 3GB data bundle – valid for 12 months – was deactivated.
The SIM was used as a mobile backup connection in case his ADSL went down, but was deactivated after 3 months of no use.
Users who keep a spare phone or SIM from a different operator for emergencies may also feel the effect of this policy.

Vodacom – SIM activity

Vodacom said it watches for outgoing usage – which includes making calls, sending an SMS, or consuming data – on its SIMs.
Recharging a SIM with airtime also qualifies as “activity”.
“If there has been no qualifying usage then the number is marked for deletion,” said Vodacom.
In the event that your number got recycled and you want it back, Vodacom said your only real chance is if you were on a contract.
“In the case of post-paid SIM cards, once the number has been deleted on our systems, it can be allocated to a new user after 180 days,” it said.
“Prepaid cellphone numbers can be made available almost immediately – within 48 hours – upon deletion.”

MTN – Access4Life Extender

MTN offers a service for those who need to leave a SIM dormant for long periods, called MTN Access4Life.
MTN recycles numbers after 90 days of no activity, sending a warning SMS message after 30 days of inactivity, and again at 85 days.
“If you wish to not use your SIM card for a certain period, then you may extend the MTN Access4Life period by paying R20 and add an additional 90 days to the life span of the SIM card,” said MTN.
The service is available by calling 173.
The service will continuously deduct R20 from your airtime balance for every 90 days that elapses while the service is active.
If you do not have enough airtime to enable the MTN Access4Life extender, the service will automatically be cancelled.
The table below summarises how long mobile operators wait before recycling a dormant number.
A lack of airtime being loaded, making a call, sending an SMS, or using data within the period is typically used to determine dormancy.
Mobile NetworkRecycled After
Vodacom185 days
MTN90 days
Cell C90 days
Telkom90 days
Source: https://mybroadband.co.za/news/cellular/224210-use-it-or-lose-it-sim-card-and-data-rules-in-south-africa.html