Cell tower battery theft causing headache

From the left are Bongo Futuse, Marelize Buekes, Mamello Selamolela and Lameck Mkorongo. PHOTO: SEITHATI SEMENOKANE

Vodacom Managing Executive for Vodacom Central Region, Mamello Selamolela, said that over the past year 40 percent of their sites were targets of vandalism and battery theft.
Selamolela added that the situation is getting worse.

“The easiest way to keep a base station up is to provide batteries or to provide a generator, however, we are facing a serious and growing problem when it comes to vandalism and theft on our sites. And it’s unfortunately a problem that’s getting worse. In the past year easily 40 percent of our sites were targets of attempted or successful vandalism. And it costs us 15 million rand a year to restore these sites,” she said.

She added that the problem is also very costly. “Its money that we can’t afford and yet we have to pay. We are fighting this battle with criminal syndicates who are targeting our network and as the load shedding problem becomes worse, vandalism and theft become worse. It becomes a vicious circle that we have to deal with. Last year alone we had to spend over two and a half million rand just on alternative power for a site.”

Selamolela said that Vodacom is working closely with the community in efforts to stop this theft. “We do need support from communities, our infrastructure is located in communities and they are the people who are the closest. We are not expecting communities to be our security provider or to replace the police but we have found that when we work closely with communities, who understand the impact that this type of vandalism has on their own lives and livelihoods, they can assist us. So we really do appeal to communities to report what they know and if they have any information.”

She added that they have also been working with law enforcement. “We’ve done a lot of work with the SAPS and the NPA to increase the penalty associated with tampering with network equipment, so that when they are caught, they are not charged with normal theft, but rather with tampering with an essential service.”

“In my view, I know this might not be a shared view across the industry. I think this is an issue that will be very difficult for each network to deal with on its own because it’s a problem that affects all of us,” concluded Selamolela.

Seithati Semenokane