MTN has seen a rise in battery theft and vandalism at cellphone towers across the country.
The company said that the worst-hit areas are currently Soweto, Tembisa, Vereeniging and Parktown – however, it noted that this is a national problem affecting all mobile networks.
“Battery theft and related vandalism is costing MTN hundreds of millions of rand and the impact on the entire industry is exorbitant,” says Ernest Paul, GM of Network Operations at MTN.
“Recent data shows MTN had 733 batteries stolen from its sites across the country in April.”
Paul said that there is a high cost to customers and network providers each time a battery is stolen, because as many as 4-16 batteries need to be replaced at each site.
To replace batteries at 100 sites, it would cost well over R10m and then several more millions would be required to cover the costs of fixing the damage done to the cell phone towers, he said.
“We must avoid the costs of these thefts impacting the consumer, so shutting down these criminals has to be a priority.
“If left unchecked, entire communities, individual customers and small businesses alike, in affected areas, will struggle to access their mobile services as the theft comes with extensive damage to the entire network infrastructure,” Paul said.
While MTN has beefed up security significantly and has achieved important successes in the fight through the adoption of a “360-degree” action plan, recent incidents have become increasingly violent, with some guards even being abducted, assaulted and shot at.
“The best way to start fighting back is for anyone spotting something suspicious on a site to report it immediately. There are various tip-off lines to call. Alternatively, report it to the police,” said Paul.
He said that MTN will provide monetary reward mechanisms for information which helps bring the criminals to book.
“Potential buyers of batteries should also make sure they know the origin of what they are buying. It is important to realize they may be buying stolen goods if the asking price is way below the market price of about R28,000 a battery,” he said.
“It is time to fight back and this starts with all South Africans playing their part. One simple call can make a world of difference in what has now become an endemic problem which is affecting all South Africans.”