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Vodacom Group

Vodacom rolls out measures to curb rising battery theft and vandalism at base station sites in Free State and Northern Cape provinces

Monday, 11 September 2023

BLOEMFONTEIN - Vodacom Central Region is intensifying its efforts to tackle the rampant issue of base station battery theft and vandalism, primarily affecting Welkom and the Northern Free State and Northern Cape areas. Incidents of vandalism occur at 15 to 28 sites per month, with between 18 and 30 batteries stolen at the region's base stations monthly.

"Theft and vandalism at our base stations continue to be a challenge, but we've seen the situation worsen during winter. These criminal activities cause disruptions to network services, resulting in frequent downtime for customers. The consequences go beyond the costs of repairing and restoring infrastructure. They have a significant impact on communities that depend on connectivity as a vital lifeline," says Evah Mthimunye, Managing Executive of Vodacom Central Region.

For many communities, especially those in remote areas, cellular base stations serve as the primary form of connectivity. When these sites fall victim to vandalism and theft, thousands of residents are left without crucial communication services. Each incident can result in the network in that area being down for days and can severely affect businesses as well as anyone relying on the internet to study, let alone those needing to contact loved ones or make a call in an emergency.

Restoring connectivity incurs further downtime and costs, with the cost ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of rands, depending on the extent of the damage and the location.

"To maintain connectivity for our customers during loadshedding, Vodacom Central Region has implemented backup power solutions across our base stations. Unfortunately, this has caused an escalating trend of criminals targeting generators, batteries, cables, wheels and diesel at these sites, exacerbating the situation," adds Mthimunye.

In addressing these challenges, Vodacom Central Region has increased security measures by installing CCTV cameras to monitor base station sites and capture suspicious activities and deploying armed response in the event of an intrusion. High-quality hardened security cabinets are being utilised to safeguard essential infrastructure, such as batteries, with steel-clad containers equipped with alarms to deter unauthorised access.

As a result of collaborative efforts with law enforcement agencies, there have been some successful prosecutions in the region. In May 2022, three accused were found guilty of damage to essential infrastructure and theft of Vodacom batteries at Boschrand, Winburg. They were sentenced to 15 years on each count, serving a total of 30 years of imprisonment. Last November, an accused was found guilty of theft from infrastructure for stealing a generator near Schoeman Park Golf Course in Bloemfontein the previous year, causing damage amounting to R800 000. They were sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment. Last month, the Villiers Regional Court in the Free State sentenced two thieves, who were caught along the N3 going to Johannesburg in possession of batteries belonging to Vodacom to 12 years in prison. 

"Vodacom Central Region acknowledges the importance of community involvement as part of our efforts in winning the battle against vandalism and theft. We firmly believe that all stakeholders working together can put an end to this criminal activity, and ensure that uninterrupted access to connectivity benefits everyone," concludes Mthimunye.

Vodacom would like to appeal to citizens to report incidents of battery theft or site vandalism by calling its toll-free number: 082 241 9952 or SAPS on 10111.

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Vodacom rolls out measures to curb rising battery theft and vandalism at base station sites in Free State and Northern Cape provinces | Vodacom Group