Vodacom Eastern Cape is taking significant steps to address the escalating issue of vandalism and battery theft at base station sites in the region. On average, 120 sites on average per month experience vandalism, while approximately 62 lithium batteries are stolen each month, with Kei County being one of the worst areas affected.
“We have seen a rise in vandalism and battery theft in the Eastern Cape region by criminal syndicates, which disrupts network services and causes periods of downtime for our customers. The cost of this criminal activity goes beyond the equipment, time and resources to restore and repair infrastructure. It can have a serious ripple effect on communities that rely on connectivity as a lifeline,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Eastern Cape region.
Cellular base stations are often the only form of connectivity available to many communities, especially those in remote areas. When incidents of vandalism and theft occur at these sites, they can leave thousands of residents cut off from communications. This can have a severe impact on both small businesses and individuals, especially in emergencies when a call makes the difference between life and death. Restoring connectivity after these criminal incidents can cause further downtime and costs the region more than R5.35 million a year, which could be invested in network upgrades and rural expansion.
As Vodacom Eastern Cape has implemented additional backup power solutions to ensure connectivity during load-shedding, criminals are now targeting the generators, cables and backup batteries at base station sites. This increasing trend has also resulted in the vandalism of generator vaults and battery cabinets.
“Vodacom Eastern Cape has been working closely with a specialised security firm, which handles cases where arrests are made. However, the fundamental challenge we are faced with is in ensuring that the correct charges are brought against the perpetrators. Additionally, the granting of bail to criminals without valid addresses has been a hindrance to our efforts,” adds Jiyane.
To mitigate these challenges, Vodacom Eastern Cape has invested in robust security measures to protect base station sites and equipment. This includes deploying trained security personnel to safeguard sites actively and deter potential criminals. The company is also installing high-security battery cabinets and reinforcing and upgrading site containers to more hardened or vault-type containers to make it more difficult for criminals to access valuable equipment, such as generators. Where possible, copper cables are being replaced by aluminium, which is less attractive to thieves.
“While we have invested significantly in boosting our security measures at our base station sites, we acknowledge that the fight against vandalism and theft is ongoing with crime syndicates finding new ways to carry out their illegal operations. That is why we are appealing to all stakeholders, from law enforcement to communities, to play a part in curbing these offences. As part of these efforts, we are collaborating with residents, engaging with chiefs of different villages and encouraging community members to report criminal activity. Putting a stop to vandalism and theft is in the interest of everyone, ensuring uninterrupted access to the benefits of connectivity,” says Jiyane.
Yesterday, 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. “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. Therefore, we urge anyone who sees suspicious activity around our base stations to report it to the police by calling our toll-free number: 0822419952 or SAPS on 10111,” concludes Jiyane.