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By 5 March 2020 | Categories: news

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It was not too long ago that telcos noted the significant problem of battery theft at its base stations, with its costing them R120 million rand a year. Coupled with load shedding, users not only end up without power, but with their network access being compromised as well.

Vodacom is fighting back: the company today announced the arrest of suspects belonging to one of the largest syndicates behind battery theft in South Africa. The company explained that the crackdown was made possible through a partnership between Vodacom’s National Security team and the South African Police Services (SAPS) along with the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department and Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Police Department.

The timeline that led to the actual arrest leads like one of those crime caper movies. The arrest of members of the crime syndicate followed an incident at the Middelburg R35 base station sites in Mpumalanga province where Vodacom’s lithium batteries were stolen. Suspects had managed to flee the scene before local police arrived on the scene.

The following day, using advanced intelligence systems Vodacom ascertained that the suspects were on route to Gauteng province and the telco’s National Security engaged law enforcement in Gauteng for assistance in pursuing the suspects. The operation led to a property in Turffontein where they apprehended suspects on the scene.

Proving that criminals tend to spread their activities across multiple regions, the suspects were linked to various cases of battery theft and vandalism across the country’s nine provinces. Vodacom batteries stolen in Mpumalanga were recovered at the scene in addition to rounds of 9mm ammunition and implements for breaking into houses.

We are not resting on our laurels. 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,” stressed Johan van Graan, Chief Risk Officer for Vodacom Group.

“That we were able to use our systems to track the movements of the members of the syndicate from Mpumalanga to Gauteng demonstrates the efficacy of the high-tech systems and technologies we have adopted to stem the tide of battery theft. We are constantly implementing new technologies,” he continued.

Van Graan affirmed that the company was using all the means at its disposal to protect its base stations. He also reiterated that beyond the monetary damage that battery theft does to base stations and the financial cost – which runs into the hundreds of millions of rands each year – battery theft results in cutting off entire communities.

The company pointed out that each theft incident can result in the network in that area being down for days, and can severely impact businesses as well as anyone relying on the internet to study. Even more severely, it also results in people being unable to make emergency calls, exacerbating the danger to their lives.

However, people are not helpless to the scourge of theft. Van Graan pointed out that the number one line of defence against site vandalism is the local community. “We urge anyone who sees suspicious activity around base stations to report it to the police. It's in everyone's best interest to act before their signal is cut off.  We’d like to urge all members of the community to report incidents of battery theft or site vandalism by calling our toll free number: 0822419952 or SAPS on 10111,” he concluded. 

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