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Vodacom rolls out measures to curb rising battery theft and vandalism

29th September 2023

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Telecommunications giant Vodacom has been intensifying efforts to protect its sites against increasing theft and vandalism across South Africa’s provinces.

In July, Vodacom warned that battery theft has become a top concern among mobile network operators, as telecommunications companies rely heavily on the backup power supply that batteries provide at mobile base stations to ensure communications uptime during loadshedding.

“Battery theft has affected the entire industry. Criminals have targeted every link in the supply chain, right from manufacturers through to robbing towers. However, keeping our customers connected is a top priority, so we have invested extensively in preventive measures, including partnering with top security companies and with communities,” says Vodacom chief risk officer Johan van Graan.

His comments followed the recovery by Vodacom’s security team and other security professionals of 49 of its batteries stolen during an armed robbery at a manufacturing partner in July.

As Vodacom installs backup power solutions across all regions in response to ongoing loadshedding, the trend of criminals shifting their focus to target generators, batteries, cables, wheels and diesel at these sites is escalating, exacerbating the situation.

In light of this, Vodacom’s regions, including Central Region, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape have, over the past month, announced accelerated efforts to tackle base station battery theft and vandalism, including security measures such as closed-circuit television remote monitoring, alarm systems and armed response units.

Other measures include the installation of high-quality “hardened” security cabinets, such as concrete containers or steel vaults for critical equipment, which make it more challenging for criminals to access and steal valuable components, as well as substituting copper with aluminium in certain equipment.

“Theft and vandalism at our base stations continue to be a challenge, but we have seen the situation worsen during winter,” says Vodacom Central Region managing executive Evah Mthimunye, highlighting that incidents of vandalism occur at 15 to 28 sites a month, with between 18 and 30 batteries stolen at the region’s base stations monthly, primarily affecting Welkom and the northern Free State, as well as the Northern Cape.

With an average of 87 criminal incidents at its base stations each month, up to 93 sites experiencing vandalism and an average of 66 batteries stolen monthly, Vodacom Mpumalanga is also embarking on measures to curb this rising challenge.

“In response to this ongoing problem, we have upped the fight against criminal activity at our base station sites,” explains Vodacom Mpumalanga Region operations executive Monde Ngcukana.

Late in August, Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal region outlined the measures it had taken to mitigate the 90 to 140 incidents of vandalism and between 120 and 160 incidents of battery theft at its sites each month.

“While this type of criminal activity has been on the rise, we have noticed a slight decline recently thanks to our initiatives to tighten security at our base station sites,” says Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Region managing executive Imran Khan.

Vodacom Eastern Cape, with 120 sites on average a month experiencing vandalism and the theft of 62 lithium batteries each month, has also experienced an increase in vandalism and battery theft.

While the region has invested significantly in boosting security measures, the fight against vandalism and theft is ongoing, with crime syndicates finding new ways to carry out their illegal operations, says Vodacom Eastern Cape managing executive Zakhele Jiyane.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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