by SAVIOUS KWINIKA
JOHANNESBURG – THE busting of some syndicates allegedly behind the rampant theft of batteries belonging to mobile network operators and the vandalism of telecommunications infrastructure indicates the government agencies and stakeholders are on track to rid South Africa of these menaces costing the economy millions of Rands.
Breakthroughs have been recorded in recent weeks following the partnerships between South African Police Service (SAPS), telecommunications companies and thanks to the assistance of whistle-blowers.
Among these successful operations occurred at the Beit Bridge point of entry where a suspect was arrested in possession of 32 batteries.
His vehicle, including a trailer, were also impounded.
There are indications the stolen batteries were to be smuggled to neighbouring Zimbabwe or elsewhere northern side to either Zambia or Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In another operation, three suspects were apprehended in Greytown in the province of KwaZulu-Natal after a tip-off.
The suspects were caught red-handed while still inside the perimeter of the base station.
Two vehicles with false licence plates tools the suspects allegedly used to break in were recovered at the scene.
The suspects have been positively linked to other cases.
In another successful multi-party operation, police and security from mobile operator, MTN, nabbed three suspects after a tip-off from another telco operator.
A total of 16 MTN batteries were subsequently recovered.
Overall, seven individuals were arrested in recent days in connection with the theft of MTN batteries. A total of 55 batteries were recovered, and four vehicles with tools were confiscated in a series of operations across the country.
Vodacom is also reaping the benefits of teamwork in the crackdown against criminality.
The mobile provider’s national security team, in partnership with SAPS, arrested some suspects belonging to what is believed to be one of the largest syndicates behind battery theft in South Africa.
Five suspected culprits were arrested in the sprawling township of Soweto, west of Johannesburg.
The syndicate is linked to the theft of batteries and vandalism across the country’s nine provinces of Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumlanga, Northern Cape, North West and Western Cape respectively.
“We are not resting on our laurels,” said Johan van Graan, Chief Risk Officer for Vodacom Group.
“We are fighting back and the clear message that we want to send to thieves out there is that you will be caught and you will be prosecuted,” he said.
“We are using all the means at our disposal to protect our base stations, so we can afford our customers unmatched customer experience and uninterrupted mobile service whether they are in urban or deep rural areas of the country.”
Vodacom has disclosed it is losing R120 million (US$7,45 million) to vandalism and theft each year.
Besides telcos’ monetary losses, businesses and communities relying on the internet suffer during the network glitches and collapse caused by theft.
There are also situations whereby where people can’t make emergency calls.
“Sooner or later these criminals will cost someone’s life,” Vodacom warned.
MTN last years disclosed it costs their mobile company more than R10 million to replace batteries at 100 sites and another R7 million to fix the damage of cellphone towers.
The company is thus encouraged with the breakthrough it and authorities as well as other operators are making in the fight against vandalism and the theft of telecommunications infrastructure.
“All the hard work is finally yielding results,” said Ernest Paul, MTN South Africa General Manager: Network Operations.
“MTN will continue to collaborate with other telco companies to completely clamp down on the scourge of battery theft, which is costing mobile network operators millions of Rands and depriving consumers access to communication services,” Paul added.
– CAJ News