Vodacom is paying community members to watch over base stations hit by battery syndicates

 ·19 May 2020

Vodacom says it will pay community members to watch over its base stations – especially in areas where it is being hardest hit by battery thieves.

The mobile operator said its new model aims to clamp down on incidents of battery theft in its base stations by engaging community members working with police to serve as monitoring personnel to help safeguard its sites.

Vodacom said that incidents of site vandalism and battery theft continues to climb at an average increase at around 35%.

The group said that on average 600 incidents per month are recorded where sites have been impacted by theft or damage. Vodacom said it is losing between R120-R130 million to vandalism and theft each year.

“Incidents of base station vandalism have significantly gotten worse over the last few years. This is because the crime is being perpetuated by organised syndicates who are always finding new ways to commit this type of crime.

“It is estimated that local cellphone network providers lose hundreds of millions of rands worth of damage to its base stations annually because of theft and vandalism, which ultimately impacts the cost of mobile services,” it said in a statement on Tuesday (19 May).

Vodacom group chief executive officer,  Shameel Joosub told local media last week that Vodacom will spend R1 billion in the current financial year ensuring the network in South Africa is able to cope with widespread electricity blackouts. Much of this investment will be used to intensify security around the telco’s base station sites, install additional batteries and generators to ensure connectivity during load shedding.

“Our security teams on the ground have observed that quite often syndicates target base stations in far flung and secluded areas because they know it will take police a long time to react. Hence, our sites in remote areas are repeatedly hit. We are responding to this by testing a new model to secure these sites by forging partnerships with members of the community,” said Johan Van Graan, chief risk officer for Vodacom Group.

“As part of this new model, we recruit local people to serve as monitoring personnel to be our eyes and ears on the ground and provide us critical information police can use to effect arrests. As part of this, we will provide locals with necessary training and accreditations, and link them to policing community forum and local SAPS to provide support when arrests must happen.

“This way you are helping to deal with the battery theft and base station vandalism problem while empowering local people with employment opportunities at a time when the local economy is struggling to create jobs.”

Vodacom said that all the provinces where this model is currently being tested, have yielded positive results.

“For example, because Vodacom has enlisted services of local people to secure its sites, in sites that used to be hit every month, break-ins have now been reduced substantially. This demonstrates that the number one line of defence against site vandalism is the local community and vigilant community members who report incidents of battery theft or site vandalism to police,” it said.

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