MTN has warned that there is a concerning rise in battery theft and vandalism at cell phone towers across South Africa.
The mobile operator recorded 125 incidents of battery theft last week, illustrating the scale of the problem.
MTN said this level of crime requires a stronger and more concerted drive to clamp down on syndicates and opportunistic criminals.
“A greater fightback is needed to avoid the costs of replacing batteries and fixing damaged infrastructure being passed on to consumers,” MTN said.
The worst-hit areas for in battery theft and vandalism are currently Soweto, Tembisa, Vereeniging, and Parktown.
The cost of battery theft
MTN General Manager for Network Operations Ernest Paul said battery theft and related vandalism are costing the company hundreds of millions of rand.
To replace batteries at 100 sites, for instance, would cost well over R10 million. This excludes the cost of fixing the damage done to the cell phone towers.
“We must avoid the costs of these thefts impacting the consumer, so shutting down these criminals has to be a priority,” said Paul.
“If left unchecked, entire communities in affected areas will struggle to access their mobile services as the theft comes with extensive damage to the entire network infrastructure.”
Community help needed
While battery theft is a countrywide problem committed by increasingly brazen and sophisticated criminal syndicates, MTN believes the war can be won if everyone works together.
MTN has beefed up security significantly and has achieved important successes through the adoption of a “360-degree” action plan.
However, 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,” Paul said.
MTN will provide monetary reward mechanisms for information which helps bring the criminals to book.
People can report battery theft by calling the MTN Fraud Line on 083 123 7867 or the Bidvest Protea Coin Hotline on 086 101 1721.
Photos of how criminals wreck mobile networks
The photos below show the damage to mobile base stations and battery theft by criminals.