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Thieves now stealing generators from cellphone towers during load shedding

Base stations of local network providers are increasingly being targeted for theft and vandalism and what we are finding through our investigations is that organised syndicates are coming up with unique approaches to commit this crime,” said spokesperson Byron Kennedy

MTN and Vodacom said cellphone towers were being targeted during load shedding, with several generators being stolen and some robbers disguising themselves as contractors.

AS LOAD shedding intensifies throughout the country, so too does crime.

Some of the businesses feeling the impact are cellphone companies MTN and Vodacom as their plans to run their businesses during load shedding are being sabotaged.

Cellphone giant Vodacom said several generators were stolen at various sites in the past eight weeks.

“Base stations of local network providers are increasingly being targeted for theft and vandalism and what we are finding through our investigations is that organised syndicates are coming up with unique approaches to commit this crime,” said spokesperson Byron Kennedy.

“It is estimated that local cellphone network providers lose hundreds of millions of rand from the damage to its base stations annually as a result of theft and vandalism which ultimately impacts the cost of mobile services.”

He said a mobile generator could cost up to R500,000.

MTN said it had noticed a trend that as the country hits persistently higher levels of load shedding, the vandalism of base stations had shifted from opportunistic criminality to a more organised form of criminality being run by syndicates.

Spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan said: “The criminals will, at times, disguise themselves as third-party contractors, so as not to be confronted by communities, and take that opportunity to specifically steal batteries.

“The syndicate criminality has a knock-on effect on opportunistic criminality as after a site has been hit by a syndicate, and should it not be secured soon enough, opportunistic criminality will then also occur.”

A security company said the generators stolen from cellphone tower base stations were being sold on the black market.

Dragon Protection Services founder Manhar Parshotam said: “The theft and vandalism of batteries and generators at tower base stations are committed by a sophisticated criminal syndicate.”

He said more security and interventions were needed at tower base stations.

Parshotam said the need for the fuel from the generators was also a contributing factor to the rampant theft.

Mobile networks have spent billions of rand on generators, batteries and other equipment to keep the network going during load shedding.

Parshotam said the thieves were well-prepared.

“They already know exactly what to anticipate because they send someone in to first check out the base station and prepare for the generator to be removed. In the dark of the night, a vehicle arrives and the generator or batteries are loaded onto it,” he said,

“The stolen generator is then sold via social media. Sometimes, they already have a buyer, who ordered it before the actual crime,” said Parshotam.

He said towers needed to be better secured and the area around the tower had to be monitored.

“The type of tracking units used currently on towers and generators is very basic. This needs to be upgraded and a higher quality of tracking units must be used and monitored hourly,” said Parshotam.

“If the towers cannot operate then the system collapses.”

The Association of Comms and Technology said the sabotage of telecommunications infrastructure, such as towers, base stations and fibre optic cables, had the compound effect of disrupting network coverage and service, resulting in loss of revenue for the network operators and, more importantly, the loss of connectivity for consumers and businesses alike.

“The theft and vandalism of telecommunications infrastructure harms business across multiple economic sector and can have the adverse effect of harming the national economy.”

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