DURBAN – Organised crime syndicates are increasingly targeting Vodacom base stations in KwaZulu Natal region for theft and vandalism, with over 70 incidents of vandalism reported on a monthly basis.
The region is losing R6.5 million per month from vandalism, a cumulative R80 million per annum. In most cases, the theft has resulted in significant site downtime, leaving entire communities in parts of the province with no connectivity.
Cellular base stations are the only form of connectivity available to many communities, and when criminals target these base stations to steal diesel, power cables, batteries and even radio equipment, they can cut off thousands of people. Vodacom repeatedly sees situations where communities cannot make emergency calls and are put in danger by these criminals and sooner or later, these criminals will cost someone’s life.
Commenting on the matter, Chris Lazarus, Managing Executive for Vodacom KwaZulu region, said: “We are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of base station vandalism and battery theft cases across the province. We have registered 70 cases per month since the start of 2020, effectively 840 incidents of vandalism per annum. What we are finding through our investigations is that this crime is being perpetuated by organised syndicates who find new ways to commit this type of crime. We lose millions of rands worth of damage to our base stations annually because of theft and vandalism. But more importantly than the monetary impact, criminals are cutting off entire communities.”
Vodacom KwaZulu Natal region is fighting back by ramping up the efforts against this criminal activity, and is working closely with law enforcement agencies and security companies to arrest thieves for prosecution. The region has had many successful arrests and prosecutions and a number of cases are before the courts for prosecution. In August, a man who stole equipment from mobile phone base stations in the Western Cape, was handed a 500-year prison sentence by a regional court in Cape Town.
The region has embarked on a new network resilience upgrade programme, investing almost R200m install a range of solutions including container claddings and surveillance cameras.
Lazarus said, "Crucially for us, the number one line of defence against site vandalism is the local community. Therefore, we urge anyone who sees suspicious activity around our base stations to report it to the police. It's in everyone's best interest to act before their signal is cut off."
In this regard, the region has been driving engagements with communities, councillors, induna, amakhosi and educational campaigns. Vodacom would like to appeal to members of the community to report incidents of battery theft or site vandalism by calling our toll free number: 082 241 9952 or SAPS on 10111.
“The clear message that we want to send to criminals is that if you target our base stations, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted," concludes Lazarus.